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.
Logos of Twitter and Facebook (Photo: IC)
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.
Twitter user Sheryl's account was blocked after liking her idol Lay Zhang Yixing's post supporting Hong Kong police and a few comments denouncing violence protesters.
"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.
"It's reasonable for Chinese media to tell the country's story via overseas social media platforms," said Geng.
"I don't understand why some companies or individuals have had such a strong response. Is it because this information hit their weak spot?" said Geng.
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.