Social media platform Twitter temporarily blocked the account of New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury, after she posted a tweet that mocked the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
In a July 1 tweet, Brady linked a news article covering the CCP’s centennial celebrations, in which she suggested an alternative headline of “Xi: its my Party and I’ll cry if I want to.” She also questioned why hardly anyone turned up for the party’s 100th-anniversary celebrations. Over the weekend, her two tweets were marked as “unavailable,” and Brady was locked out of her account.
In a write-up at The Times, Edward Lucas, a consultant specializing in European and Transatlantic security, criticized Twitter for buckling under Beijing’s pressure, saying that the Internet was meant to be “our big liberator,” but China is “turning it into the great oppressor.” Lucas speculates that the ban was a decision that probably resulted from a “concerted campaign” by online CCP agents since enough complaints can usually trigger the platform to block an account automatically.
“After I had stoked a furore on Twitter and sent umpteen complaints, her account was restored. Less prominent victims of Chinese censorship would have scantier chances of redress. But the episode highlights the way in which the internet, which we once hailed as a haven for free speech, now makes us much less safe,” Lucas wrote.
Brady criticized Twitter, saying that the platform may have “briefly forgotten” that it does not work for Xi Jinping. On July 5, her account was restored. Brady said Twitter greeted her with a “Welcome Back” message as if she “was the one who left them.” The academic thanked Lucas for raising the issue with Twitter.
“Some of the biggest names in social media, from @Twitter to @LinkedIn @Zoom & @Facebook, appear to be getting into a habit of silencing CCP critics. Yesterday, it was my turn to be censored. Thanks for your support in getting it overturned @edwardlucas,” Brady said in a tweet.
Brady is a well-known critic of the Chinese government. Her 2017 paper, “Magic Weapons,” detailed how the CCP was accelerating the spread of its political influence worldwide. In 2020, she co-authored a paper discussing how Chinese companies and universities could be exploiting their relationship with New Zealand’s counterparts to access technology useful to the Chinese military.
Since 2017, Brady has reported several incidents of burglary and break-ins at her home and university office. She also receives numerous anonymous phone calls. In one violent incident, her vehicle was damaged.
Last year, Twitter had appointed Fei-Fei Li, a pro-CCP expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI), as an independent director on its board. The decision attracted widespread criticism because Li has deep ties to the communist party and was instrumental in establishing Google’s AI lab in China. Wong Longmeng, a commentator from France, stated that hiring Li was like hiring a fox to guard the hen-coop.
“They seem to have ignored the backstory of Li’s previous cooperation with China. Li Fei-fei… secretly opposed Google’s cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense from a high moral standpoint… but turned a blind eye to Project Dragonfly, in which Google was planning to help the Chinese Communist Party vet online speech,” Longmeng said, as reported by Radio Free Asia.
Former President Donald Trump, who has been permanently suspended from Twitter, filed a lawsuit against the microblogging site and other platforms such as Facebook and Google. The class-action lawsuit also targets the CEOs of the three companies.
Trump’s account was suspended in January in the aftermath of the Capitol breach incident. Despite the fact that Trump was cleared of allegations of promoting violence in his second impeachment trial, Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts remain suspended.
At a news conference in New Jersey, Trump called the lawsuit a “very beautiful development for our freedom of speech,” and accused Democrats of espousing misinformation. The suit asks the court to order an end to Trump’s censorship. The former president warned that if he could be banned as President, “they can do it to anyone.”
“We are demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and canceling that you know so well,” Trump said.