After Tesla CEO Elon Musk bought Twitter on Monday, some observers wondered whether China — where the automaker has a major factory and market — would exert more influence over the social media platform.
On Friday, Chen Weihua, head of the EU’s office in the state-controlled media outlet China diary, called for the removal of the label in his Twitter bio as “China state-affiliated media”. He called it “suppression of free speech” and said the policy “must” be changed.
“Elon Musk should remove my tag. Also, when people want to like or RT my tweets, they are now reminded by Twitter that ‘this is state-affiliated media’. This is totally discriminatory and suppression of free speech . Twitter should change this policy ” Chen tweeted.
Chen was responding to a tweet by Musk about free speech.
“By ‘freedom of speech’ I simply mean what is in accordance with the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. law is contrary to the will of the people,” Musk wrote.
Twitter’s policy currently states: “China blocks access to Twitter for regular users. We believe people benefit from additional context when interacting with the Chinese government and state-affiliated accounts. Labels on state-affiliated accounts provide context additional information on accounts controlled by certain government officials, state-affiliated media entities, and individuals closely associated with those entities.”
Access to the platform in China has been blocked since 2009.
Twitter says state-affiliated media accounts are “defined as vehicles where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressure, and/or control over production and distribution.”
The accounts of these organizations, along with the accounts of “their editors-in-chief and/or their senior staff, may be labeled”.
Chen’s biography reads: “Chief/Columnist, Department of China Daily EU. Former DC, Chief Correspondent of NY. Knight Fellow Stanford, WPI Fellow Macalester, Freedom Forum Fellow UHManoa Views My Own!!”
Chen has been speaking out against the labeling practice for years, calling it “Twitter McCarthyism” in 2020.
“Twitter has labeled my personal account an account affiliated with state media despite my statement that it does not represent anyone but myself. But here none of the US government’s propaganda media since the Cold War has been labeled. Twitter’s McCarthyism.” he tweeted at the time.
In another 2020 post, he called Twitter “fun” but criticized the labels as “not just inaccurate with the facts, but misleading. It’s discrimination.”
Political scientist Ian Bremmer weighed in on the conversation on Saturday, calling it a “land mine” for Musk. He tweeted, “Can’t imagine Elon wants to comment on this. It’s a landmine for him politically, but he can’t afford to publicly alienate the Chinese government given his Tesla business model.”
newsweek contacted Twitter and Chen for comment.