As a forum which permits free speech, it goes without saying that Twitter has been blocked in China for a long time. But that hasn’t stopped millions of Chinese citizens and activist from using a VPN to access it.
But as the Chinese Communist regime continues to crack down mercilessly on any type of online freedom, even these hidden users are now being targeted as Beijing attempts to extend its internet controls onto overseas sites.
As an open platform, many Chinese internet users employ Twitter to share information about life in Communist China as well as criticising the regime in a way that would be extremely dangerous on Chinese social media.
But this information is publicly available, which means that the Chinese authorities can access it too. And it seems that the regime has been doing some detective work to try and track down and prosecute those activists using Twitter.
The chilling case of Shi Jing
Radio Free Asia has reported on one such activist, Shi Jing, who was arrested while boarding a flight from Nanjing to Japan at the start of November. He was held in custody until last week, during which time the police quizzed him about posts he had made on Twitter.
The tweets in question related to the case of Wang Quanzhang, a human rights lawyer who has been detained by the regime for more than three years without charge. There was also a tweet about a woman who had splashed ink on a portrait of Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
Despite being released without charge, Shi has been fired from his job, his passport has been revoked, and his Twitter account has been deleted. He cannot leave the country and has been warned that he is under surveillance.
The case of Shi Jing is not a one-off. Numerous Chinese activists report being pressured by the regime to delete specific tweets. Others report that Communist authorities have hacked into their account and deleted it.
One such case saw the Twitter account of Wu Gan, a Chinese activist who was sentenced to eight years in prison last December on the sinister charge of subversion, deleted. It contained more than 30,000 tweets which contained commentary and critique of the Chinese Communist regime.
Freedom of speech in China at stake
The effect of the use of threats, force, and detention to control activity on Twitter has an obvious impact on freedom of speech. Seeing prominent activists disappearing from Twitter or deleting accounts is more likely to cause other users to self-censor or stop using Twitter.
This is precisely the effect that the Communist regime wants to have and their attacks on Twitter users are only likely to intensify in the months ahead.
Remarkably, Twitter has decided it is appropriate not to comment on this story, which has been reported by several media outlets, including the AFP news agency. Their message to those using their platform to promote political reform in the world’s worst authoritarian regime is clearly, you are on your own.
For those activists who wish to continue using Twitter to critique the Communist regime in China, the best advice if you want to avoid repercussions from Chinese authorities is to do so anonymously rather than using your own name.
By connecting to the internet through a reputable VPN, you can be sure your connection is safe and private, but if your account contains personal details, it does not take a lot of detective work to trace it back to you.
To find the best VPN to use in China, a good place to start is our article on the Best VPN for China 2018.
US Congress warned over China’s IoT threat
Elsewhere, a bombshell report to the US Congress has revealed the extent of national and corporate security risk China poses to the Internet of Things.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2018 report highlights the huge amount of state finance that China has poured into trying to dominate the new 5G infrastructure and the IoT supply chain.
This investment combined with rampant Chinese intellectual property theft and cyber-espionage has given China a huge advantage in the development of new IoT devices.
The report warns that the Chinese Communist Party has the power to use the dominance of Chinese companies in this market to modify products exported to the US and other markets to either underperform on spy on their users.
They also warn about the poor cyber-security measures that have been put in place on many IoT devices which creates significant weaknesses which China’s army of state-controlled hackers could easily exploit.
The report makes a series of recommendations to the US government but should also serve as another warning to users of IoT devices of the potential security and privacy risks these devices can pose especially if they originate from Communist China.