Facebook suspends account of a Chinese billionaire

Published: 22 April 2017, 05:44 AM
Facebook suspends account of a Chinese billionaire

Guo Wengui, a Chinese-born billionaire who lives in America, has recently publicized accusations of corruption against family members of top-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials. This week, China’s government asked Interpol to issue a request for his arrest.

On Friday, Facebook suspended Mr. Guo’s account. After Mr. Guo complained publicly, Facebook said the suspension had been a mistake, and his account was restored.

The incident comes in the middle of a full-court press by the Chinese government to push back against the accusations from the eccentric billionaire. It highlights a persistent problem for Facebook, which must manage matters as varied as bad manners and high-stakes political battles on a website with nearly two billion users.

Facebook has been in a protracted and public courtship with China, which blocks the social network but has the world’s largest internet-using population. The New York Times reported last year that Facebook had developed a tool that would let third parties censor the social network as part of its attempt to gain entry into the market.
Just after midnight on Friday morning, Mr. Guo posted a message on Twitter that said his public Facebook account had been suspended.

“What does this mean, Facebook blocked me?” he wrote in part in the post. “They must have gotten really scared! Can this stop my revelations? This is truly lawless. This is very interesting. Their fear and worry makes me think that the value of my various evidence is bigger than what I had imagined.”

Some responded to Mr. Guo’s message by posting photos of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, meeting with high-profile Chinese politicians.

A Facebook spokeswoman said that the company’s automated systems had erroneously suspended Mr. Guo’s account and that once the company was able to investigate the error, it had restored the profile. The precise reason for the suspension would be difficult to determine, the spokeswoman said, adding that publicizing the reasons could allow others to manipulate the system.

Mr. Guo did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Guo, who is also a member of the Mar-a-Lago resort, owned by President Trump, has attracted plenty of attention this week. Hours before he gave an interview on Wednesday to Voice of America — which Mr. Guo had said would include a “nuclear bomb” of allegations — China asked Interpol, the global police organization, to arrest the billionaire. A Voice of America official said the Chinese government had pressured the broadcaster not to show the interview.

Mr. Guo has been living outside China for two years after a deal to acquire a brokerage went bad. He has been accused of giving about $8 million in bribes to a former top intelligence official, according to a report from The South China Morning Post. In the Voice of America interview, Mr. Guo denied those allegations.

Facebook has previously caused controversy by blocking content from a high-profile Chinese activist that involved nudity and a post by a Tibetan activist that showed a self-immolation.

Some Chinese activists have complained about accounts being sporadically suspended on Facebook and other sites without explanation. In response to Mr. Guo’s post on Twitter, some users brought up a theory that China’s government uses a collection of foreign social media accounts to report accounts like Mr. Guo’s so they will be suspended.

The Facebook spokeswoman said the company does not remove content based simply on how many times it has been reported.

Source: The New York Times