Twitter Users in China Face Detention and Threats in New Beijing Crackdown


In addition, official media outlets like the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily newspaper and the Xinhua news agency use Twitter to shape perceptions of China in the rest of the world.

“On the one hand, state media takes advantage of the full features of these platforms to reach millions of people,” said Sarah Cook, a senior analyst for East Asia at Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group based in the United States. “On the other hand, ordinary Chinese are risking interrogation and jail for using these same platforms to communicate with each other and the outside world.”

Twitter is not the only platform contending with China’s censorship rules.

LinkedIn, the business networking service, has long bowed to the country’s censors. It briefly took down the Chinese accounts of Peter Humphrey, a British private investigator who was once imprisoned in China, last month and Zhou Fengsuo, a human-rights activist, this month. The company sent emails to both containing language similar to the messages it sends users when it removes posts that violate censorship rules.

“What we’ve seen in recent weeks is the authorities desperately escalating the censorship of social media,” Mr. Humphrey said. “I think it’s quite astonishing that on this cloak-and-dagger basis, LinkedIn has been gagging people and preventing their comments from being seen in China.”

Both accounts have been restored. In a statement, LinkedIn apologized for taking the accounts down and said it had done so by accident. “Our Trust and Safety team is updating our internal processes to help prevent an error like this from happening again,” the statement said.

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Peter Humphrey, a private investigator who was once jailed in China. LinkedIn, the business networking site, briefly took down his Chinese account last month.CreditFrank Augstein/Associated Press

With Twitter, Chinese officials are targeting a vibrant platform for Chinese activists.

Interviews with nine Twitter users questioned by the police and a review of a recording of a four-hour interrogation found a similar pattern: The police would produce printouts of tweets and advise users to delete either the specific messages or their entire accounts. Officers would often complain about posts that were critical of the Chinese government or that specifically mentioned Mr. Xi.

The police have used threats and, sometimes, physical restraints, according to Twitter users who were questioned. Huang Chengcheng, an activist with more than 8,000 Twitter followers, said his hands and feet were manacled to a chair while he was interrogated for eight hours in Chongqing. When the inquiry was over, he signed a promise to stay off Twitter.



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