After Twitter and Facebook kicked President Trump off their platforms and his supporters began comparing his social media muzzle to Chinese censorship, the president received support from an unexpected source: China.
“Legally he is still the president. This is a coup, ”said a comment that included a statement that was popular 21,000 times on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.
“A country as large as the United States cannot tolerate Trump’s mouth,” said another popular comment. “US democracy has died.”
The comments were obtained from Guancha.com, a nationalist news site, which created the hashtag # BigUSappsunitedtosilenceTrump # on Weibo. They have been endorsed by the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled tabloid.
Mr. Trump “lost his right as an ordinary American citizen,” wrote an editorial. “Of course, this runs counter to the freedom of expression that the US political elites have advocated.”
Mr. Trump’s exclusion from American social media for spurring the violent crowd at the Capitol last week has taken advantage of the Chinese internet, one of the most heavily censored forums in the world. For the most part, people who go to jail for their texts condemn what they see elsewhere as censorship.
Much of the condemnation is fueled by China’s propaganda weapons. By highlighting the choices made by Twitter and Facebook, they believe they are reinforcing their message to the Chinese people that no one in the world really enjoys freedom of speech. This gives the party greater moral authority to crack down on the Chinese language.
“Some people may believe that Twitter’s decision to ban the US president’s account is a sign of democracy,” wrote Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, in an opinion piece headed, “The Ban on Trump’s Account.” Twitter shows that there is free speech. ” Limits in every society. “
It would be difficult for the United States to come back and play the role of the “beacon of democracy,” Hu added in a Weibo post.
Many Chinese online users have bought the official line. Almost two-thirds of the 2,700 or so participants in a Chinese online survey voted that Twitter should not have closed Mr Trump’s account. The survey was sponsored by a newspaper from the Xinhua News Agency, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese government.
“I have learned in the last few days that the American social media platforms frequently delete posts and block accounts,” wrote a verified Weibo account called “Su Jiande”. “I’ve lost the last hint of respect for the country.”
The user thanked Weibo for allowing users to say what they want to get the truth. (I read through the user’s Weibo timeline and found no evidence of sarcasm.) Many Weibo users asked Mr. Trump to open a Weibo account.
“This is not the US as we know it,” commented a Weibo user named Xiangbanzhang. “This is Saddam’s Iraq and Gaddafi’s Libya.”
Trump defenders compare overthrowing the president from social media to Chinese-style censorship. “This is not China, this is the United States of America, and we are a free country,” wrote Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former press secretary for Mr. Trump, on Twitter.
Chinese censorship doesn’t work that way. In China, speeches about top politicians are closely monitored and strictly censored. The people who run Facebook and Twitter have the right to decide what can and cannot go on their platforms.
The Chinese government requires news websites to dedicate their two most important daily articles to Xi Jinping, China’s foremost leader. For example, on Tuesday, online outlets praised a speech Mr. Xi gave at a party seminar, while another piece explained the classic literary allusions used in an article he directed in a Communist Party magazine.
The government has strict rules that allow social media accounts and websites to post articles and photos of executives like Mr. Xi. Young censors spend much of their working days blocking and deleting links containing photos of the leaders, even if the content is government supportive. In other words, ordinary Chinese people don’t even have the right to post photos of Mr. Xi, let alone criticize him.
Those who dare to criticize him will be severely punished. Ren Zhiqiang, a retired businessman and influential social media personality, was silenced on Chinese online platforms in early 2016 after criticizing Mr. Xi’s instructions that the Chinese news media should serve the party. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison last year after writing an essay criticizing Mr. Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Chinese internet companies conduct their own censorship, but they do so out of fear of what Beijing officials might do to them. Last February, ifeng.com, a news portal, was fined for publishing original content about the coronavirus outbreak. According to Chinese regulations, these websites cannot produce original news.
According to the national internet regulator, websites and regulators processed more than 13 million items in December that were classified as illegal and unhealthy. This corresponds to an increase of 8 percent compared to the previous year. Among them, six million were processed by Weibo.
For these reasons, many Chinese people are baffled by the idea that private companies like Twitter and Facebook have the power to reject a sitting American president.
“When Twitter banned Trump, it was a private platform that refused to serve the president,” wrote a Weibo user named Xichuangsuiji to explain the difference. “When Weibo bans you, it is simply implementing government policies to censor someone’s speech.”
Some Chinese dissidents and liberal intellectuals oppose the bans because they have suffered severe censorship in China or because they support Mr Trump, whom they see as tough on the Communist Party.
“Twitter and Facebook allow propaganda from the Global Times and the People’s Daily, and yet today they went to war against their own president by censoring his expression,” posted Ai Weiwei, a dissident artist, on Twitter in Chinese. He was known to have been censored online in China, harassed by the police and confined to his home by the authorities before he was allowed to escape.
“Freedom of speech,” Ai added, “is a pretext and nothing more.”
Kuang Biao, a political cartoonist in the southern city of Guangzhou, has closed several Weibo accounts and created many censored cartoons, including one last year about Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was silenced by police to share information about the coronavirus. In the cartoon, Dr. Li a mask made of barbed wire.
But when Mr. Kuang created two cartoons to express his displeasure with Mr. Trump’s bans, China’s censors did nothing. In one of them, President Trump’s mouth was brutally sewn up. In another case, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, a brutal tyrant who burned books and executed scholars more than 2,000 years ago.
By Tuesday evening, the first had had more than 170,000 views on the short video site Douyin, a sister site of TikTok.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” said Kuang. “It is a sacred human right.” He said he is a strong supporter of President Trump, who he believes is “a man who serves people wholeheartedly”.
Some people in China have noticed the split, saying that people who defend Mr Trump’s freedom of speech are victims of a far worse type of censorship.
“Sheep, which the tiger can eat anytime, are angry that the tiger was put in a cage,” wrote Chen Min, a former journalist who usually goes by the pseudonym Xiao Shu.
In his report on WeChat, the popular Chinese social media platform, Mr. Chen wrote that a powerful leader like President Trump has a lot of responsibilities, including the consequences of his speech. Mr. Chen is frequently censored and harassed by state security officials for what he writes online.
Journalist Zhao Jing, known by the name Michael Anti, is puzzled why Chinese Trump supporters are so zealous in defending his freedom of speech. Mr Trump has the White House, Executive Orders and Fox News, he wrote, “What else would you like him to have free speech?”
China’s censors don’t seem to agree. Er Weifang, a renowned law professor at Peking University, wrote a long post on WeChat supporting the restrictions on Mr Trump. The article has since disappeared.
“This content violated the rules,” read a message with a red exclamation mark that once published the article. “So it cannot be displayed.”