Twit­ter, Face­book ac­tion sparks back­lash

Global Times US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Li Ruo­han and Zhang Han

Face­book and Twit­ter faced a strong back­lash af­ter the two plat­forms started to take down ac­counts from China in re­la­tion to the on­go­ing protests in Hong Kong.

Users com­plained the move was the lat­est ev­i­dence of the plat­forms’ vul­ner­a­bil­ity to Western bias against China, while an­a­lysts noted that so­cial me­dia plat­forms should per­form their so­cial responsibi­lity of en­sur­ing freedom of speech and not fall vic­tim to Western po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness stan­dards.

Twit­ter sus­pended 936 ac­counts on Mon­day for “de­lib­er­ately and specif­i­cally at­tempt­ing to sow po­lit­i­cal dis­cord in Hong Kong” and “un­der­min­ing the le­git­i­macy and po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions” of the on­go­ing protests in the city.

The plat­form al­leged the move was “a co­or­di­nated state-backed op­er­a­tion.” Face­book also re­moved seven pages, three groups and five ac­counts “based on a tip shared by Twit­ter.”

Face­book claimed the in­di­vid­u­als be­hind the ac­counts are as­so­ci­ated with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, ac­count hold­ers reached by the Global Times stressed that their actions have noth­ing to do with any gov­ern­ment or au­thor­i­ties, say­ing they just felt the need to speak out when in­for­ma­tion about their home­land was far from the facts.

“The in­for­ma­tion and re­ports over the protests in Hong Kong are ex­tremely one-sided and we should re­fute lies and make the right voice heard,” an or­ga­nizer of the Diba on­line fo­rum told the Global Times on Tues­day.

Re­spond­ing to an ap­peal from Diba, thou­sands of in­ter­net users de­nounced rad­i­cal vi­o­lence and sup­ported the Hong Kong po­lice on the Face­book page of Ap­ple Daily and Hong Kong me­dia out­lets on Satur­day.

Af­ter that, more than half of the or­ga­niz­ers from Diba could not access their per­sonal Face­book ac­counts un­less up­load­ing a pic­ture of their iden­tity cards.

“It’s a shame that Western me­dia la­beled the voices, which are purely pub­lic opin­ions, as state-backed,” said the or­ga­nizer who re­quested anonymity. “We are dis­ap­pointed, but we will not give up speaking out,” the or­ga­nizer said.

Twit­ter listed posts that led to the shut­down of the ac­counts, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion from reg­is­tered me­dia such as Hong Kong-based Sing Tao Daily and letters from Hong Kong res­i­dents call­ing for an end to vi­o­lent protests.

Ac­cord­ing to Twit­ter’s state­ment, the ac­count of user “Dream News” was sus­pended af­ter it posted “Are th­ese peo­ple who smashed the Legco crazy or tak­ing benefits from the bad guys? It’s a com­plete vi­o­lent behavior, we don’t want you rad­i­cal peo­ple in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!”

Many users also com­plained that their Face­book and Twit­ter ac­counts were blocked af­ter they voiced sup­port for Hong Kong po­lice and posted pic­tures of the Chi­nese na­tional flag.

In­ter­net user Shun­ing posted on China’s Twit­ter-like Sina Weibo plat­form that her Face­book ac­count was blocked af­ter she com­mented “Hong Kong is part of China” on the Ap­ple Daily page.

“Now I un­der­stand the ‘freedom of speech’ the West has boasted about, which is block­ing my Twit­ter af­ter I posted a pic­ture of riot­ers leav­ing piles of trash on a Hong Kong street,” said Xu Danyi, a univer­sity stu­dent in Tokyo.

Vic­tim of bias

The take­down cam­paign, which is an ar­bi­trary crack­down of dif­fer­ent voices, is a vi­o­la­tion of freedom of speech, Zhu Wei, a pro­fes­sor at the China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law in Bei­jing, told the Global Times.

When it comes to is­sues re­lated to China, es­pe­cially on ide­ol­ogy, the plat­forms don’t give much room to voices from the Chi­nese side, which shows the plat­forms’ vul­ner­a­bil­ity to be­ing ab­ducted by Western val­ues and the weak­ness in the face of Western po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, said Zhu.

Face­book and Twit­ter were ques­tioned by in­ter­net users. “I see. The US and its me­dia gi­ants have the ul­ti­mate right to de­fine what freedom of speech is,” posted Yun­heqiluo on China’s Twit­ter-like Sina Weibo plat­form.

Over­seas Chi­nese stu­dents and Chi­nese liv­ing abroad have the right to ex­press their opin­ion and it’s pretty clear what the stance of 1.4 bil­lion Chi­nese is over af­fairs of Hong Kong, Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesper­son Geng Shuang said at a daily brief­ing on Tues­day

Af­ter the Mon­day crack­down, users from other coun­tries, es­pe­cially those that hold dif­fer­ent val­ues with the US, ex­pressed their con­fu­sion about Twit­ter’s logic, say­ing that ac­counts of in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists from those coun­tries are of­ten sus­pended, while voices catering to US val­ues are not, even when they spread fake news.

The move is clas­sic US hege­mony and bul­ly­ing in cy­berspace with its dou­ble stan­dards, said Qin An, head of the Bei­jing-based In­sti­tute of China Cy­berspace Strat­egy.

Qin warned that such moves will only de­stroy the cred­i­bil­ity of the plat­forms for in­ter­na­tional users. The ar­bi­trary move also breached the spirit of the rule of law, said Zhu, not­ing that the ac­count hold­ers could file lit­i­ga­tion in US courts.

Zhu noted the plat­forms should ful­fill their so­cial responsibi­lity to of­fer a place where dif­fer­ent opin­ions and val­ues can be freely ex­pressed, in­stead of of­fer­ing stages for the solo per­for­mance of Western val­ues.

Such moves will only lead Twit­ter and Face­book to­ward be­com­ing a po­lit­i­cal tool, or a vic­tim that kid­napped by pol­i­tics, which drifts the two plat­forms fur­ther from be­ing a re­spon­si­ble pub­lic prod­uct, said Zhu.

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