Big Tech and Big Tyranny: Zoom to Enforce China’s Speech Laws

June 16th, 2020 12:44 PM

Big Tech companies, once seen as creating world-changing platforms that gave voice to the voiceless are actually beholden to government censorship — especially in China.

The video-conference company Zoom reportedly “announced Thursday that it would help the Beijing government crack down on activists within that country, and would only draw the line at blocking users outside of mainland China,” Salon reported June 15. Zoom confessed that it had helped derail three Zoom “meetings and suspended or terminated the host accounts associated with the three meetings.” 

Forbes observed that the controversy first erupted when Zoom made the choice to “ban three users organizing memorials to mark the Tiananmen Square massacre at the request of Beijing.” These activists were commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, which were infamously crushed by the Chinese communist government. 

Going forward, Zoom promised in a June 11 blog post that it “will not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China.” Zoom also mentioned it will develop technology that “will enable us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography." In short, while China does not have the power to censor people in Western countries, Zoom made it clear that it will censor citizens of any country if their governments declare it to be the law.

Zoom explained that while it laments China’s harsh oppression of free speech, it will enforce its laws nonetheless.

Zoom’s blog post made a feeble attempt to express the company’s hope “that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity.”

Even so, Zoom declared that it indeed took action against Chinese activists that were calling out the Chinese regime for its crimes against humanity:

In May and early June, we were notified by the Chinese government about four large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details. The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.

While Zoom may have strategically tried to salvage some of its moral credibility in its blog by reinstating these activists’ accounts, it still prevented them for having a high-profile event marking a national tragedy at the hands of their brutal regime:

Recent articles in the media about adverse actions we took toward Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo have some calling into question our commitment to being a platform for an open exchange of ideas and conversations. To be clear, their accounts have been reinstated, and going forward, we will have a new process for handling similar situations.