Beijing Twitter User's Letter on the Chinese Government's Move to Force China's Twitter Users to delete their accounts and tweets and hand over their passwords
Dec. 30, 2018
Dear Dr. Yang:
I apologize that I took the liberty of asking for your E-mail address. Thank you for your prompt reply.
I am a Twitter user in Beijing. xxxx is my English name. Recently, many Twitter users in China have been coerced to delete their accounts and tweets, and hand over their passwords, etc. I feel that the situation is very urgent and hope you can help us.
I believe you know quite well that the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP) is more "powerful" than ever before, to the extent that it can silence foreign government agencies, diplomatic departments, foreign companies and human rights organizations, etc., or even force them to become their accomplices. From the unscrupulous CCP propaganda agencies abroad to the arrest of diplomatic and foreign journalists and activists, we can see that the CCP is not only "powerful" militarily, financially and politically, but has penetrated various fields aggressively. When the domestic microblogs or Weibo (the China's equivalent of Twitter) were just emerging, domestic public opinion still had some room for free expression, and people still could speak out and defend their rights. However, in the past 8 years, almost all the conscientious lawyers, activists, journalists, and even the open-minded people in the CCP have been forced to delete their Weibo accounts and keep silent. Now the domestic Weibo is just flooded with entertainment and social news. The sensitive information is usually deleted by the "efficient" censorship team instantly. My Weibo accounts have been deleted twice, just because I had posted some comments. Therefore, the Chinese netizens remark jokingly that only the official account of the US Embassy the censorship team dare not delete. Most of the sensitive information on WeChat public accounts and WeChat Moments (a feature in WeChat like Facebook Timelines) has been deleted and blocked.
Especially in 2018, many events occurred, for instance, the information of tens of millions of Facebook users' accounts was leaked; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited China many times and communicated with officials from Cyberspace Administration Department; Google was developing a censored search engine for China - Dragonfly Project. Although they were all questioned by the US Congress, the CEOs of these companies have given up the basic value of not doing evil in their hearts. Therefore, I believe the compromise is temporary and they will continue doing what they want to do for the profits in the future.
Many netizens in China, at the risk of being arrested, attempt to break through the blockade of the Great Firewall and tweet to express their opinions, spread the truths, and support the "sensitive" people. Since Apple's removal of the censorship-evading software in the App Store last year, it's been more difficult for the domestic netizens to "cross" the Great Firewall. Twitter and YouTube have become their only platforms for free expression. Their purpose of crossing the Great Firewall is to promote China's democracy like you, recognize the falsehoods that were indoctrinated by the CCP, know more truths and spread them to domestic friends and relatives.
I believe you also know that many domestic Twitter users have been coerced to delete their accounts and tweets and hand over their passwords recently by the state security officials or policemen in very despicable means. The authorities attempt to make the netizens' thoughts, words, and comments disappear permanently, and intimidate them not to speak, comment or exchange ideas on Twitter any more. These basic human rights which Westerners take for granted are very hard to be guaranteed in China. In order to make us silent, the state security officials threaten our employers to fire us, prevent schools from accepting our children to study, suspend our pensions or even intimidate our relatives and friends, etc. No one can handle it if he or she still lives in China, because the CCP has no bottom line. Although many Twitter users have been forced to delete their accounts, I still admire them. Their courage is out of conscience, like yours.
I believe the domestic telecommunications companies and state security department have collected the information and data of all Twitter accounts, because many Twitter users must log on to Twitter with their domestic email addresses or mobile phone numbers. The data they collected probably include the information of the users' cell phone numbers, names, identity numbers, jobs, the people they are following on Twitter, etc., so they can easily obtain the information of a Twitter user and find him/her. Take myself as an example, although I didn't post a lot of tweets and retweets, I believe they will find me sooner or later, requiring me to hand over my password and delete my tweets and accounts. All my efforts of many years will go down the drain, but I am not afraid of it, because I had prepared for this when I decided to write this letter to you.
I began to use Twitter two years ago. On Twitter, I have been following the warriors like you who dedicate yourselves to China's democracy, learning your thoughts and views, and understanding the world outside the Great Firewall. On Twitter, I can read different views and see the collisions between different religions, ideas and cultures. On Twitter, I can also know the real history, the evil of the CCP and its attempts to export its authoritarianism and dictatorial model. As you know, the thinking of our generation has been stifled since our childhoods. The textbooks we study at school are fabricated by the CCP and are used to indoctrinate us. However, thanks to the emergence of the Internet, I started to have different ideas from others. I began to question, analyze, and tell friends and relatives about the truths, and began to speak for others and defend their rights. I remember when the 9/11 Incident took place in the United States, I was at college, and many of my classmates cheered. They said that the United States acted as a "global policeman", an executioner and a terrorist, so Americans got the retribution they deserved. Since then, I have started to think more and show sympathy and condolences for disasters like this. At that time, the information technology was still underdeveloped, but I read more books than others, so my views were different. Up to now, many people have changed their views through the Internet. Twitter is a very important platform for free expression and information exchange. It is more important for domestic netizens than any other platforms. The Internet is the real enlightenment tool for the generations born in 1980s and 1990s. It is also the only channel for us to know the outside world and keep us from not being brainwashed by official textbooks, news broadcasts, and internal propaganda. If Twitter is not accessible for China's netizens and our tweets and accounts disappear, the loss of democracy cause at home and abroad will be enormous. Therefore, after careful consideration, I decided to write you this email, hoping you can promote data and privacy protection of Twitter and US legislation to prevent the CCP from extending their "hands" to foreign social media in order to protect our freedom of speech.
Last week I read a news report saying Twitter had noticed the issue of account security -- requiring users to tie their accounts to domestic telecommunications carriers, but there is no further news afterwards. I have no idea about American laws and policies, so I venture to present to you my suggestions and hope to get your support.
The first suggestion: the security authentication of the Twitter accounts should be untied to the domestic carriers, instead, other methods should be adopted. (The purpose is to prevent domestic carriers from intercepting verification codes and identifying the users' information.)
The second: Can any US carriers provide some virtual phone numbers? (The purpose is to avoid the use of domestic phone number authentication that might be tracked.)
The third: Can you suggest Twitter company to add a new function in some special countries which enables Twitter to run data backup? (The purpose is to help Twitter users to retrieve and restore their accounts and tweets in case they are forced to delete their accounts and tweets.)
The fourth: Can you promote the relevant legislation in the U.S to draw attention of the media, the US Congress and the government? (The purpose is to urge them to prevent the CCP from continuing to coerce, threaten our personal security and depriving us of freedom of speech in the form of legislation and law.)
Last, thank you so much for your selfless dedication to the cause of China's democracy, and your help and assistance to the Chinese people. Your thoughts, views and actions will continue enlightening the Chinese youth to find freedom.
* Citizen Power Initiatives for China's research arm Citizen Power Institute publishes CPIFC Briefing Series and CPIFC Monograph Series. The former are short essays or succinct scholarly articles that spontaneously reflect the realities of China while the latter are research reports on China's politics, economics, culture, ethnicity, religion, civil society, human rights and strategies for its transition to democracy.