Raising speech fears, Zoom briefly shuts account over Tiananmen
Police officers stand at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 2020. This year marks 31 years since the Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
Raising speech fears, Zoom briefly shuts account over Tiananmen
Shaun Tandon (Agence France-Presse) - June 11, 2020 - 8:04am

WASHINGTON, United States — Zoom said Wednesday that it had temporarily closed a US account of activists who met to mark the anniversary of China's crackdown in Tiananmen Square, raising alarm over free speech on the fast-growing video-meeting service.

US-based rights campaigners turned to Zoom, which has become a way of life for many people during the coronavirus lockdown, to connect more than 250 people to remember Beijing's crushing of the pro-democracy uprising on June 4, 1989.

The group Humanitarian China said it had brought in numerous participants from inside China, which has tried to erase memories of the bloodshed — and that its paid Zoom account was shut down without explanation one week later.

The shutdown was first reported by news site Axios.

Zhou Fengsuo, a co-founder of the group who was number one on Beijing's most-wanted list after the Tiananmen crackdown, told AFP that the Zoom account was reactivated on Wednesday.

Zoom acknowledged that it had shut down and restored the account after the attention.

"Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate," a Zoom spokesperson said.

"When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws.

"We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters."

The activists voiced outrage, charging that the company may have been under direct pressure from China's communist leaders.

"If so, Zoom is complicit in erasing the memories of the Tiananmen Massacre in collaboration with an authoritarian government," Humanitarian China said in a statement.

It called Zoom an "essential" resource in reaching audiences inside China, which rigorously enforces censorship.

Long dilemma for US tech

Zoom reported Tuesday that its earnings had soared in the quarter ending April 30 as both companies and friends, cooped up inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns, embrace the platform to meet virtually.

Its rapid growth has not been without previous problems, with the company forced to confront a rash of racists and other unwelcome gatecrashers who hack into Zoom sessions.

Beijing has developed a sophisticated "Great Firewall" that aims to keep out news that is damaging to the leadership.

Authorities go to extraordinary lengths each year to ban commemorations of the Tiananmen crackdown, in which the military killed hundreds of unarmed protesters — by some estimates, more than 1,000 — who had packed the capital to seek reform.

PEN America, the literary group that defends free speech, denounced Zoom's move.

"We wouldn't tolerate it if a phone company cut off service for someone expressing their views in a conference call; we shouldn't tolerate it in the digital space either," said the group's CEO, Suzanne Nossel.

"Zoom portends to be the platform of choice for companies, school systems and a wide range of organizations that need a virtual way to communicate, especially amid global lockdown. But it can't serve that role and act as the long arm of the Chinese government," she said.

With its alluring market, China has long been problematic for US tech giants that generally boast of allowing unfettered free speech at home.

Apple in 2017 acknowledged that it bowed to Chinese law by removing apps for VPNs, or virtual private networks, that let its users evade local controls. 

A decade earlier, Yahoo faced intense criticism and conceded wrongdoing after helping Chinese officials identify pro-democracy advocates who posted on online message boards.

TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE ZOOM
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 30, 2020 - 11:21am

The latest news about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms.

October 30, 2020 - 11:21am

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday warned of the potential for civil unrest as votes are tallied in a US election that will be "a test" for the social network.

Zuckerberg expressed his concern while describing safeguards against misinformation and voter suppression at the leading social network that are intended to avoid the kinds of deception and abuse that played out four years ago.

"I'm worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalized there is a risk of civil unrest," said Zuckerberg, who had also been grilled during a session on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

"Given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we've done before."

Confusion early this week over political ads at Facebook marred the onset of what was supposed to be a cooling-off period ahead of the US presidential election November 3.

Rival parties complained Facebook was undermining campaign efforts after blunders arose around a ban on new paid political ads being published in the week before Election Day. — AFP

October 20, 2020 - 9:45am

Facebook unveils software based on machine learning which the company said was the first to be able to translate from any of 100 languages without relying on English.

The open-source artificial intelligence software was created to help the massive social network deliver content better in 160 languages to its more than two billion users around the world.

"This milestone is a culmination of years of Facebook AI's foundational work in machine translation," research assistant Angela Fan says in a blog post. — AFP

October 16, 2020 - 5:14pm

Twitter has altered its policy on hacked content after its decision to block a news report critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden provoked Republican fury.

The social media behemoth -- used by hundreds of millions worldwide -- says it would in future only block stolen information which was posted directly by hackers, and label any other information of questionable provenance. — AFP

October 16, 2020 - 7:31am

Twitter was working Thursday evening to resolve a global outage of the social media platform used by hundreds of millions worldwide.

The outage marked a new setback for the network, which is fending off accusations of bias over the decision to block a news report critical of Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden.

"We know people are having trouble tweeting and using Twitter. We're working to fix this issue as quickly as possible," a company spokesperson told AFP at 2225 GMT.

Repeated attempts to post a tweet were greeted with the message: "Something went wrong, but don't fret — let's give it another shot."

According to downdetector.com, users on every continent had reported being unable to use the platform, but the outages were concentrated on the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as Japan. — AFP

October 10, 2020 - 10:31am

Twitter says it will take down calls for violence starting after polls close on US election day and slap warnings on premature victory claims to fight efforts to undermine the election.

When it comes to a winner in any race, Twitter will require an announcement by an election official or a public projection from at least two authoritative, national news outlets making independent election calls.

The California tech giant will also invite people to add their thoughts to retweets instead of just mindlessly sharing, according to legal lead Vijaya Gadde and product lead Kayvon Beykpour. — AFP

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