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Authoritarian Tech

Twitter apologizes after suspending accounts ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

Twitter has issued an apology after it suspended accounts criticizing China in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.

The social media platform explained that mistakes were made as part of its efforts to “protect the health of public conversation”. “These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was routine action on our part,” the company said in a statement. “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize.”

The censorship of accounts critical of the Chinese government falls in the run up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, where student-led pro-democracy activists were attacked by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1989.  Twitter’s suspensions hit human rights lawyers, activists, college students and nationalists, who use alternative means to access the platform, which is banned in China.

Knowledge of the massacre is sparse in China with search terms like “May 35” — meaning four days after May 31, or June 4 — restricted online. Louisa Lim, researching for her book, “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited”, discovered only 15 out of 100 students recognised the otherwise infamous “Tank Man” image.

At the time, China said only 200 had died, along with several dozen security personnel, but a secret diplomatic cable written by the ambassador at the time suggested the death toll could be over 10,000.

In a thread on Twitter, Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of China Change, called for the platform to investigate the latest suspensions.

Several protests have marked the commemoration of Tiananmen Square. At Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum, a protestor poured salt water onto the plugs and fuse box during renovations.

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