By Tsering Woeser, published: January 14, 2015
Following the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, millions of people, including leaders from over 40 countries, went to the streets of Paris on January 11th to condemn terrorism and reiterate their determination to defend freedom of expression. Two days earlier, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, posted a statement on Facebook saying he was not afraid of death threats and Facebook “refused to ban content about Mohammed” that offended a Pakistani extremist.
“We stood up for this because different voices — even if they’re sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place,” he wrote. “[W]e never let one country or group of people dictate what people can share across the world. …This is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world. I won’t let that happen on Facebook. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.”
Zuckerberg’s brief post has been liked by more than 435,000 people and shared by more than 45,000. The applause is loud and clear.
But did Zuckerberg forget something? About two weeks ago, Facebook censored a video I posted about a self-immolating Tibetan in China, and around the same time the Facebook account of exiled Chinese writer Liao Yiwu was suspended for posting photos of a Chinese artist streaking in Stockholm to protest China’s imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Thanks to media reports of these two incidents of Facebook censorship, Zuckerberg can’t really paint himself as a hero who would die to defend freedom of expression.
The two unfortunate censorship events occurred shortly after Zuckerberg’s recent visit to China, where he showed off his Mandarin skills to an adoring audience, and after the Chinese Internet czar Lu Wei’s visit to Facebook headquarters where Zuckerberg displayed writings of Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Although Facebook provided technical and neutral explanations for the two censorship incidents, expressly stating they were not motivated by political or commercial considerations, I for one cannot help making connections between these incidents and Zuckerberg’s apparent attempt to ingratiate himself with the Chinese government. I wrote a letter to Facebook, Inc. titled “Faith in Addition to Face” to voice my concern. I believe that Facebook should understand the meaning and importance of images of self-immolating Tibetans before deleting them based on “graphicness.”
The Tibetan self-immolation video was reposted successfully, and the ban on Liao Yiwu’s account was lifted too. I have given credit to Facebook for this outcome, and I have not been censored since. Still, I find Zuckerberg’s statement disingenuous and somewhat opportunist. Some of my friends are of the opinion that Zuckerberg wanted to score points in light of the terrorist attack against French cartoonists, but we must remind him: If you are not afraid of death for the sake of freedom of expression, you shouldn’t be afraid of the CCP for the sake of making money in China.
January 12, 2015, Beijing
Tsering Woeser is a Tibetan writer and poet born in 1966 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, and lives in Beijing. “She writes to both a Han (Chinese) and a Tibetan audience, and her writings are said to give public expression for the first time to the emotions and experiences of a people and a culture previously hidden from the mainstream.” Read more about Woeser here.
Facebook Deletes Post on Tibetan Monk’s Self-Immolation, The New York Times sinosphere blog, December 27, 2014.
Nudity, Graphic Imagery Pose China Questions for Facebook, WSJ, December 30, 2014