Time has awarded its 2019 Person of the Year to Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. A readers' poll by the magazine, though, picked one of the finalists, Hong Kong protesters, as the winner with more than 30% of the 27 million votes.
When the Time poll opened last month, thousands of Hong Kong protesters and supporters rallied online to vote for themselves, hoping the Person of the Year title would help support their movement.
Even after Thunberg was announced as the winner, Hong Kong protesters flooded social media to draw attention to their cause. Since June, when the protests began, demonstrators have sought to advocate their demands for greater accountability and democracy to a global audience with both online and offline campaigns.
Protesters call the campaigns their "international frontline" " in contrast with the local frontline, where protesters clash with riot police, often violently with bricks and petrol bombs.
Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor of communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Hong Kong people began to appeal for international support after the initial peaceful protests failed to get the government to address their demands.
"What the movement is trying to do is to get international attention and international pressure, to see if things might change," he said. "It's time to push some other buttons to see what works."
Living in an international, English-speaking city, the mostly young, tech-savvy protesters quickly learned how to spread their message. On the streets, protesters openly engage with foreign journalists, spray-paint slogans in English and even wave foreign flags.
On the internet, they try to appeal to western audiences by registering Twitter and Reddit accounts and sharing pro-democracy Pepe memes. Anonymous users even built a Telegram bot called "Twitter Help" to guide Twitter newbies and those less familiar with western internet culture.
"Please address other people in appropriate ways," according to tip 5 from Telegram. "You can call a US senator 'Senator/Sen plus surname,' and a House representative 'Rep plus surname'… Do not use Mr/Ms arbitrarily."
Besides the etiquette tips, the Telegram bot also pushes out a list of tweets " news articles, videos or comments from foreign politicians deemed friendly to the protests " for users to retweet every day.
Another part of the "international frontline" is located outside of Hong Kong. In most major cities in developed countries, Hongkongers have staged rallies to appeal for support for the protests back home.
The Hong Kong Committee in Norway, a group of activists based in Oslo, said it had host seminars and solidarity events to ask people in Norway to support the Hong Kong movement. "We also want to show support to Hongkongers that they are not alone," a spokesperson said.
Tsui said Hong Kong protests had gained strong sympathy from people overseas because of shared concerns over Beijing's growing political and economic influence.
But the protesters' appeal to the international community has infuriated the mainland Chinese government, which sees the campaigns as evidence that demonstrators are colluding with "anti-China forces" abroad.
"Colluding with the West in meddling with Hong Kong affairs and harming national sovereignty, security as well as development interests would not bring democratic progress to Hong Kong," the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily newspaper said in October.
Beijing has also been trying to promote its own narrative of the protests " that protesters are rioters seeking to destroy the city's prosperity " to a global audience.
Compared to the protesters, state-run Chinese media, such as Xinhua and CGTN, and other organizations haven't been able to rally the same level of international support for China's official views.
In August, Twitter and Facebook said China had been using fake accounts to discredit the Hong Kong movement.
Some mainland netizens have tried to defend their government on international social media. But with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all blocked in mainland China, it's hard for them to organize into large groups.
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