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Hong Kong ups its SEO game to stop Google playing a protest song as its national anthem

It's not the anthem – it's the algorithm

After several failed attempts to get Google to stop referring people to a protest song when they search for Hong Kong's national anthem, the Special Administrative Region of China has decided to take measures into its own hands by improving its search engine optimization.

The song that appears as the top response to Google searches for Hong Kong's national anthem is "Glory to Hong Kong" – a Cantonese song released in August 2019 during protests against a law that allowed extradition of Hong Kong residents to China. The song champions independence from China and is often sung at demonstrations alongside revolution-themed classic "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the musical Les Misérables.

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The tune's top spot on Google means it was mistaken by organizers as the official song at multiple global sporting events.

Hong Kong's secretary for innovation, technology and industry, professor Sun Dong said on Wednesday that he had met with Google about the matter in November 2022.

"During the meeting, we expressed clearly that the incorrect information resulting from some internet search would not only provide excuses for the wrongdoing by some people with ulterior motives, but also mislead the local and overseas netizens, causing serious damage to our country and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)," said Sun. He added that the government had requested Google remove the incorrect information from search results and rank China's national anthem as the query's top response.

Hong Kong does not have a separate official national anthem, as it is considered part of China.

Google denied the request, stating that its search results are based on fully-automated algorithms. The company only removes content considered illegal.

"We consider that all internet search engine service providers have to bear their corporate responsibility to provide their service users with correct online content. Google has an undeniable responsibility to rectify the incorrect information from the search results," said Sun.

He said his office once again met with Google regarding the matter and both sides "agreed to maintain communication continuously and identify a proper way to resolve the problem, with a view to ensuring that the correct information of national anthem is provided to their service users by the search engine."

The secretary said the Territory's government is monitoring search results for Hong Kong's symbols and "optimizing the content of relevant government web pages on the national anthem from the technical perspective to improve the ranking of web pages in the search results."

Other measures such as public education through broadcasts and other promotional patriotic activities, often aimed at youth, have been implemented to market the Chinese national anthem's use in Hong Kong. ®

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