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OUT OF VIEW

Google Maps blurred “fight for freedom” and “democracy” graffiti in Hong Kong

Screenshot/Google Maps Street View
Mary Hui
By Mary Hui

Reporter

Frozen in time across sections of Hong Kong on Google Maps Street View are traces of past protests: posters and Post-its plastered on walls, protest slogans scrawled onto roadway medians and zebra crossings. Some protest graffiti, however, have been blurred out on the Street View map.

Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) first reported yesterday two separate instances of graffiti that had been blurred out. One read “[Chinese leader] Xi Jinping must die for the sake of the world,” and another read “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” a protest slogan that authorities have since banned under the new national security law. Both spray-painted slogans are revealed if viewed from a distance.

A Google representative told HKFP that the blurring was due to an algorithm error in its automatic blurring technology typically used to obscure faces and vehicle license plates, but did not provide further details. As of today, the two slogans remain blurred.

Quartz has now identified numerous other instances of blurred protest graffiti. Google has not responded to a request for comment.

Along a stretch of Cheung Sha Wan Road in the Kowloon area, where many clashes between protesters and police took place last year, some protest graffiti spray-painted onto concrete roadway medians are blurred out on the Street View map.

In one instance, graffiti that reads “Fight for freedom” is blurred, but can be seen if viewed from a different angle further away.

Screenshot/Google Maps Street View
Screenshot/Google Maps Street View

In another instance just a few meters away, the word “democracy” is partially obscured out, but is similarly revealed from a distance.

Screenshot/Google Maps Street View
Screenshot/Google Maps Street View

Close by, a line from the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong—which has been banned from schools, though the government has so far refused to say whether the song is illegal under the national security legislation—is also blurred out. Again, it becomes legible when viewed at a distance.

Screenshot/Google Maps Street View
Screenshot/Google Maps Street View

Other examples of blurred graffiti include the phrase “FK popo” and “anti-Chinazi,” both of which are revealed from a distance. The latter phrase has been the subject of controversy, as some people questioned the use of swastikas and other Nazi imagery in protest material.

Screenshot/Google Maps Street View
Screenshot/Google Maps Street View

The overwhelming majority of protest graffiti that can be seen in the most updated versions of Street View can be seen clearly and full, including phrases like “May the heavens annihilate Communist China” that the government would almost certainly deem subversive and secessionist, crimes under the new national security law.

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