Twitter ‘accidentally’ suspends Chinese dissidents' accounts ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

‘These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities – this was a routine action on our part,’ Twitter says

Anthony Cuthbertson
Monday 03 June 2019 19:22 BST
The Tiananmen square protest

Twitter has removed hundreds of accounts critical of China ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, including some belonging to noted dissidents.

The social network apologised, explaining many Chinese-language accounts had been suspended as part of a crackdown on spam and fakery, and that some legitimate accounts had inadvertently been caught up.

China is renowned for its strict online censorship, and has blocked Facebook, Google and Twitter. Students and activists inside the country still access them, however, using anonymising virtual private network (VPN) software to bypass the so-called Great Firewall of China.

Online content relating to the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – during which government troops shot and killed hundreds of students – is also heavily monitored and censored.

China has ramped up surveillance and censorship efforts in the build-up to the anniversary of the massacre on 4 June, with state censors reportedly introducing a number of new technologies in order to monitor dissidents across social media.

Twitter apologised for suspending the accounts, insisting it was not a response to actions by Chinese authorities.

“These accounts were not mass-reported by the Chinese authorities – this was a routine action on our part,” the firm said in a statement.

“Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors.”

The company added: “We apologise. We’re working today to ensure we overturn any errors but that we remain vigilant in enforcing our rules for those who violate them.”

Critics of Chinese censorship pointed out some of the suspended accounts included ones belonging to prominent dissidents.

“More accounts have been suspended than I can keep up,” tweeted Yaxue Cao, editor of the US-based publication China Change, which reports human rights issues in the country.

Ms Yaxue questioned Twitter’s official explanation of why the accounts were suspended, saying: “That doesn’t make sense.”

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