Overseas social media platforms targeting pro-China content shows Western double standards on ‘freedom of speech’

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/27 18:25:25

Online posts showing support for China have been widely suppressed on overseas social media platforms

Companies like Twitter and Facebook are applying double standards over the issue

When the Western world criticizes China, they call it "freedom of speech," but when China speaks back, it is called suppressing freedom. Freedom has become their patent. This is "autocratic liberalism," experts say.


Every time Nathan Rich finds that one of his videos has been demonetized by YouTube, he marks it with a red "X" in front of the title.

In his last 10 videos, only one about Marvel in the Chinese market has not been marked.

"They (YouTube) have been very aggressive toward my channel," he told the Global Times in an interview on Monday.

Rich, also known online as "the King of Hotpot," often posts videos in which he shares his opinions on news, especially those related to China. The American chief technology officer has been living in China since 2014.

Recently, he spoke about reports by the BBC, ABC and New York Times on what has been happening in Hong Kong, and questioned whether these Western media giants have been telling the truth or attempting to direct public opinion.

However, he has noticed that the more he talked about politics, the more his videos were demonetized, which are reflected in the numbers of subscribers, views, comments and likes.

He also found that when searching "Hong Kong" on YouTube, clips that support the riots appear at the top, instead of the pro-government ones that are more frequently viewed. "They're hiding videos that are positive about China… They're promoting ideas of separatism and basically anti-China ideas."

Rich has been negotiating with YouTube and received a few replies. "They still insisted on removing those subscribers and told me that everything was working as intended," he said. But YouTube does not make it clear what their "intention" is.

"It's actually not a freedom of speech issue on there… that made me nervous," he said.

On Monday night, Rich posted a new video on his YouTube channel, explaining how the website has been biased to his channel. "YouTube has admitted in writing they are removing my China-friendly subscribers," he said.

The video received a great deal of support as of press time. "Seems US is having less and less confidence in themselves, so they might have to do anti-CN stuffs in a dirty way," XD GodlikeU commented.

Last Thursday, Google released a statement saying that they had "disabled 210 channels on YouTube." It claims the move "was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter."

Days before Google's announcement, Twitter blocked more than 900 accounts, and was followed by Facebook. According to CNN, these accounts were closed for posting contents "undermining" the riot protesters in Hong Kong.

Chinese experts said that the actions of the social media platforms have been producing an atmosphere of hostility against China, which violates the US' "tradition" of "freedom of expression."

Protesters set up barricades on the streets of Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Cui Meng/ GT

Hegemonic position

Liu Qiyu, a 25-year-old Beijinger, registered on US-based community network Reddit in 2017, and spends two hours on it every day. According to his experience on the platform, Reddit users have strong stereotypes toward China, such as believing that China's social credit system works like a form of "cyber police." Liu told the Global Times he could often see articles and debates about this topic on Reddit. 

"Some foreign netizens said that if a Chinese misbehaves, his social credit will quickly be lowered and he will be put behind bars," Liu said, explaining foreign users' misunderstanding of China's social credit system. 

"I was irritated when I saw comments like this, because what they said about China is not true," Liu noted, "I agree with the view that some foreign online users need this kind of illusion which makes China look like Goliath. In addition, Western media makes foreign users feel they are very righteous when talking about China."

Irritated by foreign media's reports on recent protests in Hong Kong, Liu posted a video about a Shenzhen resident being beaten up by radical protesters at Hong Kong's airport on August 13. To his surprise, foreign users on Reddit mostly focused on the role of the man who they believe was an "alleged undercover policeman."

"I was so curious why nobody cared that he was beaten up? Most of the comments supported the Hong Kong protesters," Liu noted, pointing out that a report on the role of the man received more than 100,000 "upvotes" on Reddit while his video was downvoted. 

Commenting on the blocking of some accounts by Twitter and Facebook, Liu told the Global Times, "The two companies occupy the hegemonic position of public opinion… I could only say on those social media, the number of Western users is larger than ours. So their opinion is the mainstream, and we are fighting alone."

Some users of Instagram found that they were unable to subscribe to a hashtag that opposed splitting China after liking several posts on the subject. These hashtags also include "#Hong Kong Police" and "#Supporting Hong Kong Police." 

But for other hashtags that did not express support for China or Hong Kong police, users could subscribe with one click.

"I tried to 'like' the tweets supporting China on Twitter. But I found that after about five attempts, a survey page appeared asking me to prove that I am not a bot," "touristui65," a Chinese student in London was quoted by China National Radio (CNR) as saying.

Another net user, Huijiangke, said that whenever he posted a national flag of China, his account was immediately blocked. "If you report the accounts supporting 'Hong Kong independence,' the accounts would be fine, but ours would be blocked. They hold double standards on 'freedom of speech.'"

Betraying 'tradition'

"They are bringing politics into a business operation," said Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University's Institute of International Relations in Beijing. "It shows the extremely unhealthy situation in US politics."

What these social media platforms have done is betraying the tradition of expression that the US cherishes, he said. "Also, due to political pressure, opinions in the US tend to be one-sided, instead of varied."

He further explained that the US believes that content supporting China affects its national security. Li noted that the US has been creating an anti-China atmosphere on social media platforms, which can be seen as part of a national strategy.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China's School of International Studies, told the Global Times in a previous interview that sometimes, when the Western world criticizes China, they call it "freedom of speech," but when China speaks back, it is called suppressing freedom. "'Freedom' has become their patent. This is an 'autocratic liberalism.' That is why they often say, 'Shut up. We're discussing freedom.'"

An "open letter from Chinese young people to Twitter and Facebook" was published via the Chinese Communist Youth League and Changanjian, a WeChat account affiliated to the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The letter indicated that the accounts that were blocked for their contents "pierced the fragile hearts of a small group of US politicians, who used such a despicable method to cover their political intention."

"We believe this is double standards in the way US companies treat their clients. Anything damaging the US diplomatic interests should be closed; anything going against the US political agenda shall be hindered," the letter read. "Twitter and Facebook are taking actions to show that the international companies like them are colonial tools of thought attached to US politics." 

Zhang Dan contributed to the story

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