Well, this is horrendous.
China’s Communist Party has sentenced more than 50 people to prison in the past three years for using Twitter and other platforms banned in China to criticize Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his government. The Wall Street Journal reports the growing use of prison sentences marks an escalation of China’s efforts to “control narratives and strangle criticism outside China’s cloistered internet.”
The majority of users that China has imprisoned have little influence and reach. Among the detained citizens, their online followings range from the hundreds to the low thousands, with one having fewer than 30 followers.
Unsurprisingly, China’s Public-Security Ministry didn’t respond to the WSJ‘s queries regarding the situation. Just as predictable, Twitter declined to comment.
Zhou Shaoqing, of the port city of Tianjin, was among the residents the Communist Party detained for pointing out China’s problematic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Chinese Communist Party system regards stability as its principle, and in the face of big problems, everyone protects themselves,” Zhou tweeted in February 2020. “Hospital and health officials would all, intentionally or otherwise, reduce the number of confirmed cases.”
A local court ruled in November that Zhou “had egregiously damaged social order” with his groundbreaking total of 300 followers. “I felt helpless and indignant,” Zhou says on receiving a nine-month prison sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
The WSJ had more horrific details:
“Later that month, three men dressed as neighborhood volunteers showed up at Mr. Zhou’s apartment, saying they wanted to discuss pandemic controls. When he opened the door, the men rushed in along with seven uniformed police officers, pressed him onto the ground, and then took him away for interrogation about his Twitter use, he said.”
Another notable case centered around Sun Jiadong, 41, a resident of Zhengzhou. Sun had just 27 Twitter followers when police detained him in late 2019 for “allegedly spreading falsehoods” about the party, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang.
As more people in China turn to the internet for news, its inhumane government has looked to gain more control by punishing residents and spreading propaganda. Beijing, particularly, has used Twitter to promote narratives via a network of diplomatic and state-media accounts. China has also begun to use what are described as “state-supported troll campaigns that trumpet Chinese government viewpoints and send attacks toward China’s critics.”
Twitter can’t stop China from imprisoning residents for tweets its government doesn’t want, but Twitter can attempt to stop China from spreading propaganda. Of course, Twitter isn’t doing that, it is instead focused solely on censoring anyone left on its platform who shares Donald Trump’s talking points. Just days after removing Trump forever, Twitter allowed China to tweet that its genocide targets are “emancipated,” despite the concentration camps, forced abortions, and sterilization.
This entire story is sickening and is in dire need of help. And it will take more than Big Tech platforms to make a change. All companies in the US that are profiting largely from China must stand up, this includes the NBA which has refused to condemn slave labor, and Apple and Nike, two companies that actually lobbied against cracking down on forced labor in China.
Until the NBA, Nike, Apple, and Pepsi make strong stances against China’s behavior toward its citizens and its handling of social media use, all their social justice campaigns should be viewed as what they are: opportunistic and phony.