Friday, December 14, 2018

Crackdown in Beijing: “Using Twitter is more dangerous than street demonstrations”

Authorities in Beijing have launched a nationwide crackdown on mainland Chinese Twitter users. 

The December 5 release of 42 testimonies collected by China Change, a Chinese human rights advocacy site, details the ordeals of hundreds of Twitter users who have been detained and interrogated by national security police officers since September 2018. In most cases, police have asked — if not forced — these users to delete their posts or accounts. 

Although Twitter is blocked in mainland China, many netizens use circumvention tools, such as VPNs (virtual private networks) to visit the social media platform, get in touch with friends or access uncensored information and news. 

In 2016, there were an estimated 10 million Twitter users in mainland China. A majority of the users used the site as a news-gathering tool, and refrained from making comments, but some were outspoken, actively making critical comments when retweeting news to their friends. 

Mainland Chinese authorities have arrested Twitter users in the past, but there was no clear pattern or evidence of a strategic crackdown. Incidents were sporadic and random, like the 2012 arrest of a mainland Chinese Twitter user who made a joke about the collapse of the Hall of the People’s Congress. 

The current crackdown is a new and more worrisome development. It is happening nationwide and is not restricted to a specific online incident or act. The number of Twitter users who have been directly threatened is estimated to be in the hundreds or even more. 

According to a report from Radio Free Asia, cybersecurity authorities have detained and interrogated dissenting Twitter users from all over the China including Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong, Shandong, Fujiang, Hubei and other provinces. Some have been placed on administrative detention for 10 days. One user who refused to cooperate with cybersecurity officers was arrested and may soon face prosecution. 

There is no official information about the Twitter crackdown. But the documentation efforts of China Change have allowed us to read testimonies of arrested Twitter users and their friends, providing an overview of the latest social media crackdown in the country.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, December 14th, 2018.]