firestorm of criticism broke out recently on Twitter when it was discovered that a large number of Chinese language accounts had been suspended between May 30th and June 1st.
With the move coming conspicuously just a few days before the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, users were concerned and suspicious.
Those affected included human rights activists, students, and lawyers. Twitter later apologized for suspending the accounts, explaining that: “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize. We’re working today to ensure we overturn any errors but that we remain vigilant in enforcing our rules for those who violate them.”
According to Twitter, the accounts had been suspended not as a result of some Chinese government directive, but because they were believed to be engaging in “spamming” and “inauthentic behavior,” though the social media giant did admit that “some of the accounts were also involved in commentary about China.”
However, some of these were involved in commentary about China. These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was a routine action on our part.
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) June 1, 2019
However, some see the timing of this move as being too much of a coincidence and have accused Twitter of following in the footsteps of China’s social media networks, which commemorate June 4th each year by suspending certain features for “maintenance,” taking down accounts, and tightening up censorship of comments to an absurd degree.
After the news broke on Twitter, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Congress’s leading China-basher, even went so far as to accuse the social media company of becoming a “Chinese government censor.”
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 1, 2019
Twitter has been officially blocked in China since 2009 but has remained an extremely popular forum for Chinese dissidents, both those living inside and outside of China. However, recently, as documented earlier this year by Paul Mozur of the New York Times, Chinese authorities are cracking down on those activists who post on Twitter from behind the Great Firewall.
Such users have been detained, threatened, interrogated, and forced to delete their accounts and tweets. When one human rights activist refused to take down his tweets, he says that his account was soon hacked and 3,000 of his tweets were wiped out.