Backlash for Twitter, Facebook over closure of ‘China backed’ accounts

State media criticises ‘double-standard’ as accounts accused of manipulating protest news closed down

Protesters gather for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019. Photograph:  Manan Vatsyayana / AFP/Getty Images

Protesters gather for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana / AFP/Getty Images

 

Twitter and Facebook’s move to close accounts that the companies said were backed by China and attempting to manipulate news about the protests in Hong Kong drew swift backlash from Chinese state media and internet users.

The Communist Party’s Global Times and People’s Daily newspapers, as well as the state-run China Daily called the crackdown a “double-standard” in editorials published late Tuesday.

“This is a full display of a double-standard in action: saying one thing while doing another,” the People’s Daily said. “They suppressed Chinese netizens’ voices, but can’t suppress people’s motivation to reveal the truth.”

Twitter and Facebook have claimed that the deactivated accounts were all operated by the Chinese government, but they have given no “credible evidence” of their claims, Global Times wrote. “In addition, as Chinese government is so big, there are numerous links between the public opinion institutions and the government, but a large number of media also have a strong market orientation.”

None of the commentaries in Chinese media acknowledged that both Twitter and Facebook are already censored in China. Internet users can access the websites using special software, but this can also face government restrictions. Even though they are banned at home, many Chinese state media companies use them to advertise and put out news in English and Chinese. Twitter also said it would stop accepting advertising from state-run media worldwide.

China has long exercised tight control of its domestic media, censoring news on certain topics and muzzling critical coverage of the government. Its control of the internet has intensified under President Xi Jinping, with restrictions on sending some political news via messaging apps and the deletion of thousands of social media posts in a “Cleaning the Web” campaign that began in 2014.

Public ire

The removal of accounts also drew the ire of Chinese social media users. A post questioning Facebook and Twitter’s motives by a blogger using the moniker Yuanmuqingfang was viewed more than 95,000 times on Wechat, the nation’s most popular messaging platform.

“How do they confirm the government-linked backgrounds of these accounts, by guessing? Even if they are linked, do they have no right to speak?” the blogger asked. “Freedom of speech should mean that as long as you don’t break the law, anyone has the right to say anything, including the government itself.”

A Weibo user called SpaceMusic said his Facebook account had been shut down. “When we don’t go there, they mock us for having no freedom; when we go there and state our stance, they accuse us being instigated by the government and shut us down. Is this the freedom of speech that they touted?”

The two firms made the “ludicrous and irresponsible” claim that the Chinese government was behind the “fake accounts” but failed to provide evidence, the English-language China Daily newspaper said in a commentary. The move is an attempt to “claim the moral high ground and abuse their monopoly to control information and stifle freedom of speech.”

The China Daily article ends by suggesting the two firms reflect on “their inglorious record of being accomplices of the US government in inciting revolutions” around the world. – Bloomberg