By Joshua Boscaini
Police at the scene of a Hong Kong protest held at UniSA last Friday. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
A pro-Hong Kong protester says she has been targeted on social media after attending a pro-democracy rally in Adelaide’s CBD last week.
- A protester claims she has been the victim of online attacks on Chinese social media
- “Doxxing” is an attack on a person’s privacy in which personal details are shared online
- The claims come as protests continue to escalate in Adelaide and throughout Australia
A social media expert told the ABC the harassment, known as “doxxing”, was aimed at silencing critics of Beijing.
Aski*, from Hong Kong, who did not want her name published, said she turned up to the protest at the University of South Australia on Friday without wearing a mask.
Tensions quickly boiled over between pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing protesters, and she was captured on camera by a pro-Beijing supporter.
She said the photo was then shared on Chinese social media app WeChat.
“They thought I was the head of the whole thing,” Aski said.
She said less than an hour after the protest finished she started receiving messages from her friends claiming her personal details had been shared widely on the platform.
ABC News has sighted WeChat posts which publicly reveal her full legal name, workplace, WeChat account and a photo of her at the protest.
Pro-Hong Kong demonstrators hold up signs at the rally in Rundle Mall. (ABC News: Joshua Boscaini)
“I was a little depressed … as I don’t know what they are going to do and I don’t know what will be affected, so at that moment I shut down all the ways you can search for my WeChat ID,” she said.
“I was a bit embarrassed at that particular moment.”
‘Worried about family in Hong Kong’
She said following the protest she received another message of a screenshot from WeChat which had a photo of her sitting down to eat at Costco, while she was there.
“I then asked [my friend] ‘how do you know that?'” she said.
“They said ‘well it’s in the WeChat group, it says where you are online’.
“I thought ‘wow, is that really happening in Australia’ and I was shocked as well.
“When I drove back from Costco to my home I couldn’t stop looking at my back mirror and my left and right mirror to make sure no-one was following me.
“I spent another 30 minutes trying to go through other suburbs to try and hide my tracks.”
Aski said she was worried the dissemination of her personal information could have consequences for her family living in Hong Kong.
“The Chinese Government can know everything so you’re not going to know what the Chinese Government is going to do,” she said.
Hong Kong students in Adelaide have held several rallies in support of their home. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
She said she would not be going to another pro-democracy protest because of it.
“I didn’t go [to the protest in Adelaide on Sunday] because I am worried about working my job, I’m worried about my family in Hong Kong,” she said.
Sexually abusive messages among threats
Pro-Hong Kong protest organiser Charlotte*, who also did not want her real name published, told ABC News other leaked messages appeared to show someone threatening to bring a knife to Friday’s protest.
Charlotte (not her real name) says threats of sexual violence have been made. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
“A lot of people that have … [been] submitting screenshots of conversations on WeChat telling us … someone’s threatening to bring a knife,” Charlotte said.
“We are becoming a bit concerned because that escalated really quickly.”
She said some messages involved threats of sexual violence.
Former New York Times journalist Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, said members of a closed WeChat group spread sexually abusive messages directed at her after she covered protests in Sydney at the weekend for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“They realised I’m Chinese so they started sharing pictures … and they took screenshots of the article … and they went to my Facebook and to my Instagram and took screenshots of everything,” she said.
Journalist Vicky Xiuzhong Xu received abusive messages after covering pro-Hong Kong rallies. (Supplied: Monica Pronk)
She said pro-Beijing supporters on WeChat began calling her a “traitor” because it appeared she did not support what they were calling for.
She said some of the messages were also explicit in nature and threatened violence against her.
ABC News contacted the Chinese embassy in Canberra for an interview about intimidation against pro-democracy protesters online.
They did not respond to a request for an interview but instead referred the ABC to Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye’s comments about the situation in Hong Kong.
The remarks said the pro-democracy movement seeks to undermine the “one country, two systems” model.
What is doxxing?
International Cyber Policy Centre and Australian Strategic Police Institute (ASPI) analyst Fergus Ryan said the spread of Aski’s personal information online was classified as “doxxing”.
He said “doxxing” was being used by Chinese nationalists to scare dissidents at home and abroad.
“It’s intimidation pure and simple. The aim of it is to have a chilling effect on the debate about whatever it is we’re debating at any particular point in time,” he said.
“The hope is the information about them will go viral and spread online, particularly within China, and that will help the authorities to identify who these people are.”
Mr Ryan said the method has been used against Chinese officials when there was less censorship on Chinese social media platforms.
“An example would be an official who is officially and technically on a low salary, there is a photograph of them at an event wearing an expensive Rolex watch, that was a sort of typical example of a photo that would go viral,” he said.
“By revealing these people’s personal information, you are putting them in very real danger of their family being locked up and mistreated in a many number of different ways.
“[The Chinese Government] have the ability to stop these articles if they want to, but that’s not happening and so that tells me that this kind of behaviour has the acceptance of the state.”
‘Zero tolerance for harassment’
Protesters hold up signs and cover their faces at a rally held in Adelaide last Friday. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
In a statement, the University of South Australia said it took the safety of its students “extremely seriously”, however, it had concerns following the escalating protests in Adelaide.
“In the current environment of tension in Hong Kong we are particularly concerned for the wellbeing of all of our Chinese students who may feel impacted by events at home,” the statement said.
“We would reiterate that while we respect and uphold peoples’ right to express their views, it is vital that they do so with respect and courtesy.
“UniSA has zero tolerance for harassment, aggression and sexual assault.”
It said any students feeling stressed, harassed or bullied could seek counselling at the university, use the after-hours crisis phone and text line or use the university’s SafeZone app.