Tensions in Hong Kong have rippled across Australian universities, as supporters of the pro-democracy protests have been targeted and harassed by “patriotic” mainland students — with the tacit backing of Beijing. Public rallies and other acts of solidarity have been staged at several campuses during the Asian financial hub’s two months of civil unrest, including the emergence of “Lennon walls” plastered with sticky notes extolling the virtues of free speech and democracy. But that has angered some mainland Chinese students, who have physically confronted protestors, torn down message boards and demanded universities provide a “pure study environment” free of political messages that “insult” their homeland. Video from a small pro-democracy rally at Monash University on Tuesday shows a man aggressively shouting at students and manhandling someone who tried to step in, while a companion films the confrontation. “We wear masks because we know they will take photos and put it online on their social network sites and they try to find who (we) are,” said 23-year-old student James, who witnessed the skirmish. He said several students who participated had their details published online and at least one had been the target of harassment, including anonymous phone calls. Nationalist activists listed a pro-Hong Kong demonstrator’s home address in Melbourne on the popular messaging app WeChat, and discussed reporting mainland-born Chinese who supported the students to Beijing authorities for “welfare” when they get home. At the University of Queensland in Brisbane, a handful of hard-hatted students held its latest demonstration on Friday
Australian political parties are using voter email addresses to find matching social media profiles then combining them with the country’s compulsory electoral roll data, illustrating how privacy scandals have done little to slow the march of data-driven campaigning.
While the use of data and public profiles from Facebook, Twitter and other social media for political campaigning has become widespread globally, Australia is one of the most open countries in the world to online information gathering by political operatives.
“Most Australians have little idea about how many data points organisations like political parties, let alone Facebook, have on each of them,” said Glenn Kefford, a political scientist at Macquarie University who has written extensively about data-driven campaigning.
“They would be shocked and probably disgusted.”