China Completely Disappears Famed Online Influencer For (Accidentally) Referencing Tiananmen Square, Causing Lots Of People To Try To Figure Out Why
from the sometimes-a-cake-is-just-a-cake dept
It’s no secret that China wants to erase from history the student protests at Tiananmen Square, and the resulting massacre by the government, but it keeps proving more and more difficult in the internet age. Even with China’s infamous Great Firewall. The latest example is really quite striking.
Li Jiaqi is an astoundingly popular social media influencer in China, and one of the leading (if not the leading) e-commerce streamers in China. If you’re not aware of e-commerce livestreaming (sometimes called “live commerce,”) it’s sort of a combination of internet celebrity livestreaming and home shopping TV channels. It initially took off in China, but has since spread around the globe. But in China, few are bigger than Li Jiaqi, who is sometimes called “the lipstick king” for his ability to sell a ridiculous amount of lipstick via social media stunts.
Anyway, he’s now making news, because he’s basically disappeared, after being cut off mid-livestream. Despite a history of supporting the Chinese government, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1989 massacre, on one of his livestreams, he was seen presenting an ice cream cake that was in the shape of a tank. As you’ll recall, the most famous image from Tiananmen Square was of the lone protestor standing in the way of a line of tanks. And apparently… this made someone in the government lose their shit that it was a reference to the massacre:
See? It’s a tank? Sorta? And apparently even showing an ice cream cake kinda shaped like a tank is cause for the guy to disappear. The livestream abruptly cut out. And he basically hasn’t been heard from since, and people are wondering if his career is over.
But, of course, the more incredible thing is that… it’s causing lots of his fans to learn about the massacre. Many younger people in China are unaware of the massacre, in part because of the vast censorship campaign — and it’s even possible that Li himself had no idea about it either. But, because so many are trying to figure out why he disappeared, they’re suddenly learning about the massacre, and the attempts to censor it.
On Weibo, posts and comments linking the suspension of Li’s broadcast to the tank-shaped ice cream started to proliferate. Some fans said they found out about the sensitivity of the tank symbol by circumventing China’s Great Firewall of online censorship, alluding to the massacre as “that event.” The discussions happened in veiled terms under the watchful eyes of censors, and many of them disappeared soon after they were posted.
Some have cottoned on quickly as to why he was censored, while others are having a revelation.
“What does the tank mean?” a confused viewer asked.
Another said: “What could possibly be the wrong thing to say while selling snacks?”
Other users responded by advising those asking the questions to reach out to them through private messages. Still others used coded language to refer to Li’s disappearance.
Of course, the Chinese censors are trying to stop all of this and Li’s online presence has disappeared entirely, as has many of the conversations about it.
But what’s truly incredible here is that it probably would have mostly passed without notice if they had just gone on. Most of the viewers might not have known about the tank stuff, and never would have made any connection. But with this total crackdown, it’s drawing that much more attention to it all. If only there were a term for that.
Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times, a US-based news website tracking censorship in China, said the Chinese government was caught in an awkward position — if it censors Li’s name entirely, it risks drawing even more attention to the case. Therefore, Weibo had to deploy a large amount of human power to manually censor every post that mentions Li’s name, Liu said.
“This is the Streisand effect,” he said, referring to the unintended consequence of drawing attention to information by trying to have it censored.
“Censorship is all about keeping the truth from the public. But if people don’t know about it, they are bound to keep making ‘mistakes’ like this,” he said.
Oh, right. There is.