Facebook Slammed For ‘Censoring Truth About China’s Oppression’

By Joshua Lipes
china-zuckerberg-tsinghua-university-oct-2014.jpg Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing, Oct. 22, 2014.

A U.S.-based advocacy group has accused Facebook of muzzling freedom of speech after the social media giant deleted a Tibetan self-immolation video posted by a Tibetan activist and locked the account of an exiled Chinese writer who posted photos of a naked protest supporting jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) launched a petition Monday demanding Facebook explain its actions, noting that they were taken after China’s Internet censorship czar met with the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month.

But Facebook defended its actions to RFA, saying they were taken in response to “violations of its community standards,” and dismissed suggestions that the company had done so because of political or business interests.

The video posted by Tibetan activist Tsering Woeser on Dec. 26 showed Buddhist monk Kalsang Yeshe self-immolating in protest of Chinese rule in Tibet two days earlier.

On Dec. 30, Facebook shut down exiled Chinese writer Liao Yiwu’s account after he posted photos of a naked protest in support of Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for "incitement to subvert state power."

ICT said that the two incidents followed a meeting between China’s Internet chief Lu Wei—who runs the country’s “Great Firewall” system of online blocks, filters and manual censorship—and Facebook’s Zuckerberg at the company’s offices in the U.S. in early December.

ICT president Matteo Mecacci praised Facebook—which is banned in China—for its work in recent years providing a platform for millions of people to freely share information online, but said its actions last month were cause for alarm.

“China’s ban on Facebook reflects that so far the social media’s giant had refused to apply the censorship standards typical of China’s social media,” he said in the statement.

“It was therefore worrying to see a video posted by Woeser about Kalsang Yeshi’s self immolation deleted by Facebook, as other recent interference with individual accounts.”

Mecacci said ICT sought a “full explanation” and called on Facebook to “fully uphold the freedom of expression that has become an integral part of its ‘brand’.”

The accompanying petition, which by Wednesday had garnered more than 5,700 signatures, accused Facebook of “censoring the truth about China’s oppression of Tibetans.”

The petition cited reports which it said implied that Zuckerberg was trying to win favor with China’s government in hopes of expanding his business to the country.

“If that is the case, he needs to know that moral values such as free speech and respect for Tibetans' lives are more important than profits,” it said.

Facebook response

A Facebook spokeswoman told RFA late Tuesday that while the company has long provided a space for people to share their experiences, particularly when they are related to controversial events, it is still working to create a way to share graphic content in a responsible manner.

“Where such expression involves graphic videos, it needs to be shared responsibly, so that younger people on Facebook do not see it, and it doesn't appear without warning in peoples' News Feeds,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement, referring to the self-immolation video.

“While we continue to work on ways of giving people ways to share graphic expression responsibly, we will remove video content of this nature from our service.”

The statement also said that Facebook’s actions related to Liao Yiwu’s account were consistent with the company’s clear policy of prohibiting nudity on its website.

“The individual in question repeatedly posted pictures containing nudity,” it said.

“As a result, consistent with our existing policies and standard operating procedure, we removed the pictures and temporarily blocked the account.”

Facebook said that both actions were in response to “violations of our community standards.”

“Any suggestion that we took these actions because of politics, philosophy or theoretical business interests is completely false,” the statement said.

ICT said in its petition addressed to Zuckerberg that exceptions to Facebook’s policy regarding community standards “must be made for political actions undertaken to draw attention to an issue of life and death”—especially when they occur in places where freedom of expression is limited.


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