Twitter on Thursday launched a dedicated emoji for the Milk Tea Alliance, the global online pro-democracy movement that has united anti-Beijing campaigners.
In the movement, young people are clashing with increasingly authoritarian regimes and taking their struggles online around the unifying and popular regional drink.
Activists welcomed the announcement of the emoji – a white cup set against a background of three colours representing different shades of milk tea in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan – for the first anniversary of the movement, reports Reuters.
The campaign gained steam at a time when Hong Kong was emerging from months of pro-democracy protests and urban youth in Bangkok and other Thai cities were beginning their own street confrontations with authorities, demanding reform to the country’s military-drafted constitution.
The movement spread to Myanmar, where tea with condensed milk is a staple breakfast drink, after the February coup sparked a mass uprising.
Served iced, sweet or with tapioca balls, the beverage has become a symbol for a virtual solidarity movement, said Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law.
“One of the characteristics of the Milk Tea Alliance is that we are kind of glued by common values – the values of pursuing democracy, the values of pursuing freedom,” Law said.
He tweeted late on Wednesday that he has just been granted political asylum in Britain, where he arrived last July.
He said, “The fact that I am wanted under the national security law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and am unlikely to return to Hong Kong without risk.”
Although the Milk Tea Alliance is not a “concrete network”, the online campaign has become an amplifier of support, Law added, diminishing the distance between people championing democracy across borders.
The network was born out of a Twitter war that flared after Chinese nationalists accused a young Thai actor and his girlfriend of supporting democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence.
Use of the hashtag peaked again in February after the military coup in Myanmar, where protesters using the hashtag rallied regional support.
“We have seen more than 11 million Tweets featuring the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag over the past year,” Twitter said in an announcement that pushed the hashtag to among the top trending in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan on Thursday.
The Twitter emoji showed global recognition and lent greater credibility to the youth movement, said prominent Thai activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, one of the alliance’s leading voices.
“It’s important as it shows the young people fighting for democracy that the world is with them and they’re making an impact,” Netiwit told Reuters. “It’s a sign that online activism can go much further.”
Previously, Twitter launched emojis for #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.
Twitter is blocked in China and its apparent endorsement of a movement with a strong current of opposition to Beijing is unlikely to hurt its business, said James Buchanan, a lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University International College.
He said, “Twitter has plenty to gain by appealing to young people in the Asian markets that are open to them.”