Former head of Google China and current CEO of Innovation Works, Kaifu Lee, said he has been banned from posting on Weibo, where he has over 30 million followers.
Lee, who broke the news on Twitter, did not give a reason for the ban, saying “I’ve been silenced on Sina and Tencent for three days, so everyone can come here to find me”. He declined to elaborate today.
Lee has used Weibo to complain about China’s Internet controls. A Feb. 16 post summarized a Wall Street Journal article about how slow speeds and instability deter overseas businesses from locating critical functions in China. Last month, he also posted support for staff of a Guangzhou-based newspaper during a standoff with government censors.
“You can be outspoken with 1 or 2 million fans, or a few hundred thousand, but 30 million followers is like a provincial radio or TV station,” said Bill Bishop, an independent technology industry consultant in Beijing. “I don’t know how many other people have that many.”
While actress Yao Chen, one of the most followed celebrities on earth with over 21 million followers on Sina Weibo alone, has been able to be somewhat outspoken without apparent repercussions, it is rare that the authorities will brook open dispute (or Sina and Tencent allow one outspoken poster, no matter how popular they are, to pose any risk to their business).
A number of blogs have speculated that Lee’s ban is related to recent remarks about Jike, the search engine operated by the People’s Daily. Lee criticised the company on Weibo for wasting public money and laying off up to 100 staffers (a rumour the company denied). Lee also questioned the decision to appoint Deng Yaping, a former table tennis Olympic champion, as CEO of Jike.
Hong Kong University’s China Media Project has an in-depth piece on just how bad Jike is (h/t: Bill Bishop).