Digital Journalism Review

Former Google China boss complains of censorship on Twitter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 5:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 5:37pm

After a “departure” of nearly 150 days, Kai-Fu Lee, former president of Google China and one of most influential celebrities among Chinese netizens, resumed posting original tweets on Twitter, complaining against censorship in China.

Lee, who runs his own venture capital firm in Beijing, said that in the past six months, 78 of his posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like social media site, had been deleted.

“Judge for yourself, do you think these 78 posts really needed to be axed?” Lee asked, pasting a link to his personal page on Sina Weibo where he shows the screenshots of the original 78 posts.

Most of Lee’s posts got deleted were just reposts from the others, many of which were related to cases of corruption among officials, censorship and other political issues.

In an original post, Lee pasted a quote by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in Chinese, and the quote was later translated into English and retweeted by the official account of the United States consulate to Hong Kong.

The quote, according to the translation by the consulate (see screenshot below), reads, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.”

Both Lee and the consulate’s posts were uploaded during the Southern Weekly crisis and deleted quickly.

Journalists at the outspoken Guangzhou-based newspaper were angered by heavy-handed censorship earlier this month after finding their lead editorial for a special issue New Year was replaced by a piece chosen by propaganda officials. The journalists launched a strike lasting a few days, which gained mass support from sympathetic activists and protesters outside their office building, making the headlines worldwide.

It is unclear why Lee started posting complaints on Twitter again, for generally people running business in mainland China are very cautious about such behavior: too many complaints, especially to overseas media, will make them a target for the authorities.

Lee himself had been “invited” by officials to join them for tea two weeks ago, which was also during the Southern Weekly crisis.

Beijing repeatedly denies that they had censor information, online or offline, and there has never been any clear guidelines telling Chinese netizens that what kind of posts will be deleted on weibo.

So it would be great if Lee, who has nearly one million followers on Twitter and 27 million more on Sina Weibo, could get some official replies from propaganda departments, figure out why his posts got axed, and share his findings.