Democracy Activists Slam Twitter’s Hiring of Manager with Ties to Chinese Govt, Military

© AFP/File Leon Neal

There was a moment, perhaps most pronounced during the 2011 Arab Spring protests, when Twitter was widely perceived as an ally to human rights activists fighting authoritarian regimes.

In a week where Twitter unapologetically recruited a former member of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) to manage its China operation, that perception may have changed somewhat.

That manager is Kathy Chen, a software engineer who, in addition to a reported 7-year stretch at the PLA, also worked as an engineer for a Chinese military research institute and served as CEO of Jinchen, a software company whose local partner was indirectly owned by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.

Twitter has hired her as managing director for “Greater China,” a region which encompasses Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. (Twitter is currently blocked in the People’s Republic of China, but many web users in the country reportedly use it anyway.)

Chen was personally congratulated on Twitter by the Xinhua News Agency, the state-owned press agency whose president is a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. In response, Chen promised a “close partnership” with Xinhua in future.

She also promised to “work together” with China Central Television (CCTV), another state-owned media service known for broadcasting party propaganda.

Chinese human rights activists are alarmed by Twitter’s latest move.

According to the Associated Press, He Qinglian, an overseas-based Chinese activist, has called on Congress to conduct a hearing on Twitter’s hiring of Chen. “Twitter has vast amounts of users’ data. Given that U.S. tech firms have in the past kowtowed to China, and given the military background of Kathy Chen, it’s only reasonable for the Chinese users of Twitter to be worried about the future,” wrote Qinglian.

Prominent Chinese activists also raised the alarm on Twitter itself, with well-known dissident cartoonists posting messages and graphics attacking the company over its hiring of Chen. One artist declared Twitter’s decision a “murder of free speech.”

At Breitbart Tech, we’ve extensively covered the decline in Twitter’s reputation for anti-authoritarianism. The platform that once billed itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party” is now increasingly known for political censorship and close co-operation with national governments. For Twitter, it’s certainly not 2011 anymore.

You can follow Allum Bokhari on Twitter, add him on Facebook, and download Milo Alert! for Android to be kept up to date on his latest articles.


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