Facebook stands accused of cowing to censorship from China, after a video of a Tibetan monk’s fatal self-immolation was deleted from the website over Christmas, The Telegraph said.
The footage, showing 37-year-old monk Kalshang Yeshi setting himself on fire in front of a police station in Sichuan province, was posted online by prominent Tibetan critic, writer and journalist Tsering Woeser, according to the report.
Woeser was told after its deletion that the video “didn’t meet Facebook’s community standards.” She told the New York Times that she “couldn’t believe [her] eyes” when she read the deletion notice. “How is it that this has become like a Chinese website?” she asked.
Facebook later issued a statement citing the “graphic” nature of the video, saying that, “to give people additional control over the content they see, ” they would be introducing a warning system. “We do not currently have these tools available and as a result we have removed this content, ” the statement concluded, according to The Telegraph.
Self-immolations by Tibetans, who generally describe the act as a protest against restrictions on religious and cultural freedoms in Chinese areas of Tibet, surged in 2011 and 2012. The rate has tailed off in recent years, but rights groups say that in the past two weeks, three people have died after lighting themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China, the New York Times said.
Woeser, who is based in Beijing, said she believed the post may have been deleted because of the disturbing nature of the self-immolation, or because of efforts to sanitize material that might be critical of the Chinese authorities. She joined Facebook in 2008 and has posted extensively about self-immolations, but says this was the first time the company had removed her content, the Times said.
Speculation continued about the social media website’s motives, however, with the censorship coming shortly after an enthusiastic visit to Beijing by a Chinese-speaking Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO.
Zuckerberg was also photographed recently laughing in his California offices alongside China’s internet tsar Lu Wei, and with a copy of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book prominent on his desk, the report said.
Activist Hu Jia tweeted at the time that Facebook was “risking repeating the mistakes of Yahoo” by being overfriendly to Chinese demands.
Facebook is currently blocked in China but Lu has hinted that a deal could still be struck. “I didn’t say Facebook could not enter China, but nor did I say that it could, ” Lu told a press conference in October. “We could not allow any companies to enter China’s market and make money while hurting the country.”
Information from Tibet is strictly controlled by the Chinese government, prompting one Tibet scholar to note “there are more foreign journalists right now in North Korea than there are in Tibet”, The Telegraph said.
Human rights activists say that strict control comes at the price of Tibetan freedom and culture, meaning self-immolation has become one of the few ways to make protest against Chinese rule heard outside the Himalayan region, the report said.