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This article was published on June 3, 2019

Twitter ‘accidentally’ blocked accounts of China dissidents ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

Twitter ‘accidentally’ blocked accounts of China dissidents ahead of Tiananmen anniversary
Ravie Lakshmanan

Twitter has apologized after it suspended hundreds of accounts that were critical of the Chinese government, merely days ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4.

The microblogging service said it suspended “a number of accounts” as part of its efforts to curb various methods of platform manipulation, including “spam and other inauthentic behaviors.”

“Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize,” the company’s Public Policy handle tweeted.

Twitter and other social media platforms are blocked in mainland China under the country’s censorship system, colloquially known as the Great Firewall. But people in China rely on VPNs and proxies to circumvent the blockade.

Activists and government critics, in particular, have taken to Twitter to criticize the nation’s handling of the bloody crackdown on student protestors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The violent suppression of the demonstration also led to a tightening of censorship laws across the country, with the Chinese Commmunist Party taking strict measures to forbid any discussion of the pro-democracy movement.

Viewed through this lens, the timing of the ban has raised fresh censorship worries. The suspension provoked a series of strong reactions, including U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who in a tweet accused Twitter of becoming “a Chinese (government) censor.”

The incident came to light after political activists said a number of accounts were suspended, both inside and outside China.

But Twitter responded that its own spam filters were to blame for the slip-up. It said the suspended accounts “were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was a routine action on our part.” Twitter also said it’s in the process of reinstating the suspended accounts.

However, not everyone is satisfied with the company’s reasoning.

“Twitter’s explanation is inadequate, if not feeble,” tweeted Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of the US-based publication China Change. “There has to be more going on. Please investigate. Lack of transparency creates uncertainty, fear and conspiracy theories that hurt the company.”

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