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US workers may have to change social media use as firms adapt to China's rules (cnbc.com)
175 points by subversionist 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

In two words: bite me.

there aren't too many things that i'm a raving aboslutist about, but the freedom of political speech is one of them.

If my employer attempts to step on my neck for saying things about china that china doesn't like, on my time, and my personal accounts, their next contact from me will be from an ACLU lawyer.

I know there are companies that try to tread lightly especially when they have sizable mainlander ranks and go to pains to try to not offend.

And we obviously don’t want to speak to the people at large, but I definitely think we should have no qualms about calling out behavior of the Chinese gov as we do the Russian gov.

It’s such a contrast for Russian expats and Chinese expats and how company wide comms go out asking people to be mindful and not offend (but never get comms about not offending Russkies). I think this speaks to the importance of where the money comes from and how sensitive they are to that.

Part of the deal is that the Chinese are much more hypersensitive than the Russians. The Chinese seem to have a deep inferiority complex about their country (a couple centuries of being over-run by foreigners can do that to you), and they are responding by aggressively trying to shut down any criticism whatsoever of China.

But strong nations don't need to do that. Weak nations do. Russia is actually stronger than China here, because Russia doesn't feel like they have to stop all criticism.

Russia jails critics and worse on a frequent basis. From the Gulags to Pussy Riot to this: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/06/russian-parlia...

> The law, which critics say is reminiscent of Soviet-era legislation used to target political dissidents, stipulates fines of up to 100,000 roubles (£1,155) for “indecent” online posts that demonstrate a “blatant disrespect for society, the country, Russia’s official state symbols, the constitution, or the authorities”.

Sure they do. They don't do as much to exert international pressure, though.

Perhaps I should have said that, while China and Russia are both very concerned about their image inside the country (showing that they have some fear of their own population, perhaps), China is much touchier about its image outside the country.

The difference is Russia (the country) is poor. While China is not.

Russia's GDP is about 2017USD$ 1.7 T.

China's is 2017USD$ 12.2 T.

Companies traditionally aren't in the habit of doing favors for inconsequential entities. And for non-energy multinationals, Russia is generally more trouble than it's worth.

China pop is 1.417 bil, Russia's population is 144 million.

GDP/person: China $8,609, Russia $11,805. It's complicated to compare these two countries. China has a much larger economy so they have a bigger pool of money to spend, but then they have less per person. But both countries have huge poor groups.

Nevertheless, you are making a richer entity and a large pool of people butt hurt

because Russia is not as relevant internationally.

That's what your brain tells you. Is it reality?

A better explanation: China is much more unstable than Russia, and revolution is a much more dangerous and consequential threat.

That's an interesting take on it. I wonder if you're right. (And I'm torn as to whether to hope that you're right, or to fear that you are.)

China’s major political shifts until the liberalizations have resulted in bloodshed costing the lives of millions, if not tens of millions of deaths. (E.g. Deposing the Qing, Warlord Era, KMT vs CCP, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution).

The major issue is that the mythos of the Chinese state has always required a unified China, and unifying such a large, heavily populated country is difficult.

Maybe but Russia has had a history of being weak and controlled as well as being a target for colonization by two at the time super powers of Europe with visions of grandeur.

They also likely feel “victimized” as losers of the Cold War... (though wrongly).

If you're talking about French war and WW 2, then both of those wars were won by Russians, so those are examples of Russian superiority when we're talking about nation pride. Also I don't think that many Russians thinks that Russia lost Cold War. It was internal rebellion and has nothing to do with US. Last time Russia lost was Mongol invasion but it was so long ago.

Ok, but then China won against Japan in WWII and won against the nationalists and also defeated the Manchurians... although they had a draw against the Vietnamese... but then there is Afghanistan for the USSR

Russia feels they never lost on their own territory. They stopped Napoleon and Hitler. They are sure that they would win any war, and indeed never felt they lost the cold war, at least as Russians.

China however lost multiple time (in history) against "inferior", cruel or "dumb" enemies because of internal unrest. Those lost caused part of their territory to be under the rule of foreigners for multiple years, decades even in some cases.

Nationalism worked great for liberalism in the 18th century, but now it seems it became a tool for any government.

While I agree with your general sentiment, free speech absolutism is meaningless in employment settings without something like militant labor organizing to defend it. It’s not protected in many cases and they can always just fire you and exhaust your resources in any resulting legal battle.

If you had a union on the other hand, it could stipulate protection of this kind of speech as part of the employment contract and marshal the resources to mount an actual, meaningful defense if your employer were to try these tactics.

> While I agree with your general sentiment, free speech absolutism is meaningless in employment settings without something like militant labor organizing to defend it.

couldn’t that also be accomplished though employee ownership? e.g. without the militancy?

Absolutely! Co-ops are a great way to enshrine these protections as well.

> While I agree with your general sentiment, free speech absolutism is meaningless in employment settings without something like militant labor organizing to defend it.

Sounds an awful lot like a socialist euphemism for an ideologically-motivated blend of censorship.

I don't see how you can possibly get that from the comment.

Socialism, yeah okay. Pro-censorship?

AFAIK, political speech is not protected against employer discrimination.

That's honestly part of the problem.

Increasingly, every single right that we have that was enumerated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights has been encroached upon by the government via workarounds and loopholes (see: Commerce Clause).

Government encroachment of these rights has always been a problem, but the real issue is that America tries to nurture two systems within itself: a liberal, democratic government with correspondingly enshrined rights and an economy arranged around authoritarian hierarchies with no such protections.

While it’s all well and good to prevent the government from quashing speech and other rights, when your boss can fire you for saying something they disagree with or if you refuse things like workplace surveillance (potentially costing you your housing and healthcare in the process), these protections seem pretty threadbare. I think we need to do more to check the authoritarianism of our economy if we have any real aspiration to adhere to them.

If it’s such an issue then surely a larger federal government is the solution.

I'm pretty sure that this is going to get you sued into oblivion:

1. I work for private company X.

2. X tells me to vote for Y, says that Y is awesome, supports Y, donates to Y. (pick any of these)

3. I campaign for and vote for Z.

4. I am fired because i voted for Z.

Any outcome in which X is not crushed into little pieces is so incredibly far off the deep end from what the values of who we are as a country are that it's frankly inconceivable to me. If the free expression of political speech is so crabbed and constrained that the above is ok, or legal, or both, then we're fucked.

My point is that I am not aware of any legislation (at least on the federal level) that is widely accepted to protect political speech even in the example you bring up.

Many people assume that gay and transgendered people are protected from employer discrimination but that is also currently being adjudicated.

I want to agree with you here, but I fear that this reality is closer than we expect, perhaps less than a generation away.... it starts with citizens untied, and it means we’re already fucked, just not completely, not yet.

It would be good if it were though.

If employers were unable to do anything about an employee's political speech, then China would face the choice between isolating itself economically, or tolerating criticism.

If it isn't explicitly not protected though, there could still be a fun case to deal with.

For precision's sake, it should be pointed out that it is explicitly not protected in a lot of cases. This is due to the fact that a lot of people sign papers that they never read when they start at many corporations.

The correct play here, is to get the word out that people need to review every single paper they sign and line out the clauses that allow dismissal for bringing yourself or the company into public disrepute. People have to understand that they shouldn't be just signing away their rights like that.

The ACLU can't protect you if you've signed these kinds of contracts.

I'd say that whatever I do outside of work should stay outside of work, not just political speech. Whatever personal pictures I post on my personal instagram are none of my company's business. That said, I don't post anything public outside of forums like this.

Political activity isn't protected against workplace discrimination federally, and I would think that, were one an absolutist about freedom of politics speech, one would have to view state establishment of political activity as protected against private discrimination (in employment and in public accommodations) as California has established to be a violation of the absolute freedom of political expression otherwise enjoyed by employers and operators of privately-provided public accommodations.

China wants us all to not say bad things about China. It doesn't want to stop oppressing the Uighurs. It doesn't want to give any freedom to Hong Kong. It just wants us to shut up about them doing these things.

Forget. That. Noise.

Relevant XKCD from way back in 2006: https://www.xkcd.com/137/

hmm, that one hit

He has since changed his mind: https://xkcd.com/1357/

Doesn't sound like he did at all. The first cartoon states that you should have the right to say everything you feel you should say, while the second states that no one is forced to listen to you.

"If you are yelled at, boycotted [due to pressure from China], have your show cancelled [due to pressure from China], get banned from an internet community [due to pressure from China], your free speech rights aren't being violated"

"It's just that the people listening think you're an asshole."

I don't think it's unfair to presume that the author wasn't considering "people" to be "nations" in this context.

Too bad, because according to his narrow free speech == 1st amendment view, it doesn't matter where the pressure comes from, as long as it's not the US government. "The people" he refers to end up being multinational corporations, and they're just banning the "assholes" that are endangering their profits. Or even just drawing attention to them: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/business/media/cartoonist...

Of course he knew perfectly well that "the people" are giant corporations. But because he agreed with the censorship at the time, he chose to frame it as somehow democratic.

Well, they aren't.

You might notice the part where the people who offended china are lauded and the cowardly companies are being lambasted for failing to stand up to china.

...and therefore the companies didn't try to censor?

You've made a very convincing argument - if those that are censored are afterwards lauded, then the lauding means they're not being censored. But if they're condemned, that means it's people refusing to listen - again not censorship. And if they're neither lauded nor condemned, because no-one heard of them because the censorship was successful, well then we don't even talk about it. No matter what happens, it's not censorship!

I didn't say it wasn't censorship, I said it's not a free speech issue and I stand by that. Blizzard is free to associate with who they want. They want to associate with China.

What if instead of china he started talking about how white people need to start driving the lesser races out? Should blizzard still be required to associate with him? Is anything less than business as normal too much of an impingement on his rights?

What happened to him is just business. If you don't like it (I don't), then blame capitalism (I do).

These are not contradictory.

That seems less like changing his mind and more like recognizing that if you act like a piece of crap you will (deservedly) be treated that was, and having to censor yourself to not act that way isn't a free speech violation.

"Last year, China severely punished Marriott after an employee in Omaha, Neb., “liked” a pro-Tibet tweet. Marriott profusely apologized and fired the employee." -- https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/07/nba-is-on...

I guess this employee also acted like a piece of crap and deserved it. Or does that comic only apply when he agrees with the censorship?

Yes, total piece of crap. Many kourics.

Are you sure you haven't signed some obligatory arbitration clause?

this is nice

What case would you have? We've heard over and over that we have freedom of speech, not freedom from the consequences of our speech. If a corporation wants to exercise their right to stop associating with you, that trumps our right to be employed by them or to use them as a platform - or so we're told.

And it's not the US government leaning on them, but a foreign government. Don't see a legal case here, and it's even in-line with popular moral sentiment nowadays.

>We've heard over and over that we have freedom of speech, not freedom from the consequences of our speech.

Thats some nice doublespeak. By that definition the chinese people have total freedom of speech, just no freedom from the consequences of being disappeared by the CCP!

Old soviet joke(s):

Q: Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union, just like in the USA?

A: In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the White House in Washington, DC, and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished. Equally, you can also stand in Red Square in Moscow and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished.

Q: What is the difference between the Constitutions of the US and USSR? Both of them guarantee freedom of speech.

A: Yes, but the Constitution of the USA also guarantees freedom after the speech.

For some reason, a lot of people consider it a problem only when the consequence is brought on you by the government.

Somehow corporations are seen as naturally good, from whom protection is not needed. Only the government is seen as a potential source of tyranny or oppression.

How long will this be justifiable, with the rapid gain in power by corporations?

>problem only when the consequence is brought on you by the government

It's not that corporations (or individuals) are seen as being naturally good. But they don't have the power to imprison you or silence you by force and, in fact, would be committing a crime by doing so. They have some civil remedies for stealing trade secrets or breaching NDAs.

Certainly major corporations have a lot of power. But it is still a fundamentally different degree and type of power than the government has.

> But they don't have the power to imprison you or silence you by force

The ability to fire you and give scathing negative references to any prospective future employers (thus in turn eradicating one's ability to participate in a market-driven economy/society) is just as severe of a penalty, and imposing that penalty for the purposes of silencing political dissent is just as reprehensible. We're (hopefully) critical of that having happened in retrospect during the era of McCarthyism and Red Scares; why should we be expected to accept that as "okay" now?

And that's all even without the ability to lobby politicians to make laws in their benefit / at your expense.

This is a major point that people fail to appreciate. Prior to the mass urbanization and industrialization of America, corporations were basically irrelevant in terms of what they could do to you. People were, at any rate, much more self-sufficient.

Even if you did infuriate your neighbors to the point where the guy at the general store wouldn't deal with you - you could pick up and move somewhere else, not even that far away, and it would all be fine.

That's absolutely not the case today. If you get hit by the wrong company, you can be denied the right to participate in swaths of society. And no matter where you go, they're there. You can't get away. Their power extends throughout the country, and often outside of it too.

And as society changed in this manner, we've done nothing to ensure our freedoms remain protected. We've mostly thrown up our hands and decided by default that it was okay because at least the government wasn't doing it - even though corporations hold just as much power to make your life absolutely miserable. It seems a little silly to point out they can't arrest you - oh, sure, not directly, but they can do a whole lot to you short of that, and they can go a long way towards getting you arrested.

Well then I guess you would have to start your own business or live off the land. The government can't prevent you from doing either of those activities and you're on a site full of people who do these sorts of things, so it's not impossible, just really, really, hard.

Being fired is not as severe as imprisonment.

It's not that it's only a problem when the consequence is brought by the government, but that US policy is so actively hostile to worker interests that the vast majority of employees can be fired at any time for any reason other than when that reason is somewhere explicitly stated to be because the worker is a member of a short list of protected classes.

There's no "right to publicly support things that are not illegal without employer punishment."

> For some reason, a lot of people consider it a problem only when the consequence is brought on you by the government.

Well this is because it's all the the US constitution legally protects us from.

I agree with your general point about corporate power, but getting fired from your job (corporate power) is simply not the same as getting thrown in jail or having your rights reduced in any way (state power)

This has been cited around here more times than I care to count: https://xkcd.com/1357/

"Freedom of Speech" is a Western concept generally traced back to Greece and Rome. Why would you expect China to adopt a similar position when it's not part of their philosophy, history, or culture?

Name and shame companies who bow to Chinese censors


(Repo named after south park episode)

I think you might be the owner of the repo so I'd suggest here instead of there.

I think this could be a wikipedia page, and sources could be added.

This would be an excellent Wikipedia page. Fantastic idea!

"There is" is more accurate.

"There is a separate whitelist here (as link)" would probably be clearest.

You should update the Blizzard entry. Blizzard didn't just ban the player, they rescinded his prize money and fired the 2 casters that were with him on air.

Before we were voicing everything on the Internet there was both a separation between professional lives and private lives and far more localized communities that had lower interaction with each other.

With the way many are using the Internet is blurs or removes the lines between private and public along with removing regional group barriers.

So, I used to be able to run my mouth locally on some topic and have no work or global repercussions. Now, you do that on the Internet, it could be seen be people thousands of miles away, and it could impact ones career.

It's not just technology but how we choose to use it and guide others to do so as well.

In practice, most people can still enjoy a degree of separation unless they're in a relatively public role and/or haven't tried to separate their personal and professional personas on, e.g., Twitter.

That said, the walls between personal and professional can break down in a big hurry if some ill-considered (or just unconventional) remark/action/etc. goes viral. Companies will cut their connections with most individuals very quickly if that's the easiest and least embarrassing response to an online mob.

We need to be a bit more accurate though so that we can concentrate minds on solving the real problem. From what I can see, companies are not "embarrassed", they are "afraid".

They don't care about online mobs, they care about the drop in revenue that will come from lost business. Reputations that take years to recover impact revenues for each of those years. That's the issue.

If we could think of a way to insulate companies from lost revenue, the problem could be solved. To date, there have only been clumsy, amateurish attempts to do this. Actions like, telling everyone, "Hey, go spend your money with this company!" Which for a lot of reasons rarely, if ever, works. We have to come up with something that would provide decision makers at these firms more certainty.

I'm not sure how you even go about "insulating companies from lost revenue" though. The online mob may not be responding rationally (or in a way you agree with) but groups of people certainly have the right to publicly denounce and call for boycotts of a company.

Which, as you say can be damaging to their brand and ultimately their revenue, ability to hire people, etc. The fact is that the path of least resistance to mitigate and close out the damaging outcry as quickly as possible is often to apologize, fire someone, make some harmless concession, etc.

I feel a whole lot of repression is going to happen as people learn they can’t even be themselves in their personal life without somehow hurting the feelings of someone they haven’t even spoke to who has the power to get them terminated.

Well, there is private and public then there is personal and professional. It's like a matrix. Things you do publicly have long had the ability to affect your personal and professional life. Public just now has the ability to go global and not be forgotten which is something new.

If you post it on Twitter for everyone to see it's not your private life. It's public.

This is now paired with a change in attitude. There used to be a tone of forgiveness and to help people. Now when people screw up there are groups looking to destroy them. And, the definitions of what's wrong or a screw up are changing among different groups which complicates things.

"Strange game. The only way to win is not to play." -- Joshua / WOPR (War Games)

It would be interesting to look back at how this is playing out from the vantage of 10 or 15 years.

I could see an attitude like:

- Sure, people do dumb things on social media especially when they're in college etc. No one cares.

I could also see:

- Those fools. Who is so stupid as to associate their real identity with social media accounts? (Of course, since you can't keep other people from posting, it's a little hard to see this happening.)

As a counterpoint, I'm not sure things have materially changed in the past five years or so. But I would think that people today tend to have a better handle on the limits of discourse under their True Name.

OTOH, there's probably more outrage in the culture generally and probably more people who can rally a supporting crowd for hurt feelings and other arguably trivial rationales.

The only thing that is going to stop this is when these companies start losing money. They would sell their first born if they thought it would increase their stock prices.

I would boycott these companies but to be honest I don't have any accounts with them in the first place and I am actively closing accounts and reducing my presents on the internet.

> reducing my presents on the internet.


Though I also agree that you shouldn't have presents on the internet, either.

Yep, that's the one. I think that is one of those words that I always use wrong until someone points it out.

Call your elected leaders.

How long is it going to be before someone sets up a betting service on which companies will bend the knee fastest?

Protections from government influence on free speech is a fundamental American cultural value. Just because it's a foreign government doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to abide by that value.

While companies should be held to account for caving to economic pressure, and boycotting them is justified, I think it's important to recognise that this pressure exists, and for all companies, not only those yet to have an infamous PR incident.

It is the responsibility of government to counteract such pressure and protect business from becoming proxy to foreign interference in domestic political discourse, not to mention protecting such discourse in itself.

I remember when news used to tell you about things that did happen instead of things that might happen.

Until a company actually does this, this is just clickbait speculation.

The NBA recently [1] condemned an employee's post on Twitter in support of the Hong Kong protesters - shortly after the tweet was deleted and an apology was issued by the employee. While there is not proof of coercion it is strongly implied. Leaks [2] also indicated that the employee's immediate termination was strongly considered.

SIGNIFICANT EDIT: it seems the NBA has walked back and is now supporting the employee in question, as a consequence China has banned all NBA broadcasts in the country.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21176976

[2]: https://www.reddit.com/r/nba/comments/deawtd/gonzalez_as_a_c...

[3]: https://www.reddit.com/r/nba/comments/dewiuy/yu_fu_cctv_anno...

Does Blizzard's muzzling/suspension of a Hearthstone tournament player count? Sure, the player isn't an employee, but essentially earns money by playing.


I think a caster was canned as well, which I'd definitely qualify as an employee.

Really, that's different. It's perfectly reasonable to prohibit your tournament streams from being used as a medium for activism.

Not really. Blizzard cites a specific rule that all the tournament players agree to that allows them to do that. Most employees don't have any such agreement with their employer.

Even so, with at-will employment, employees have always been subject to being fired for saying something controversial on social media, so this is nothing new.

I mean there will always be legal excuse.

Corporations hr departments have firing down to a fine art.

That's like saying "until US president is elected, talking about elections is a clickbait speculation". Policies are born out of speculation about the future, and public speculation (aka debate) about what is going to happen can influence them. We see evidence (NBA, Blizzard, Apple, Mariott, Gap, etc.) of US companies prostrating themselves before Chinese censorship. It is reasonable to discuss this phenomena and speculate what policy change it may bring in.

Are you proposing that a majority of election coverage is not clickbait speculation? Have you actually watched any election coverage?

There is plenty of real coverage that takes place, but it doesn't fill a 24-hour news cycle. It consists of things like direct quotes of what candidates actually said and things they actually did. The rest of it is filled with guesses about hypothetical policies they might adopt and what horrible/wonderful things might occur if they do get adopted. In other words, clickbait speculation.

There's a difference between "a lot of coverage of X is clickbait" and "any coverage of X is clickbait because X has not happened yet". The former is likely true, the latter is obviously false.

There is a difference between "things that did happen concerning a thing that is going to happen" and "hypothetical things that may or may not happen".

This coverage is about US employers en masse firing employees unless they censor themselves on social media. This is not a thing that has happened. This is not coverage about the two specific incidents that actually occurred. It is speculation.

The person quoted in the article is from the American Enterprise Institute, which is a think tank. This is not someone in charge of setting policy at any US company. This is someone sitting on the sidelines and making guesses.

> This is not a thing that has happened.

Neither have US elections in 2020. Both are likely to happen if current tendencies keep in the future, which makes it sensible to discuss what would happen then. We see people fired or under threat of firing for social media posts all the time. Is it cause for concern for everybody right now? No, not yet. Does it happen frequently enough that it might become an issue in the future? IMO, yes, absolutely.

> This is someone sitting on the sidelines and making guesses.

These are not just abstract guesses made out of nothing on a whim. Those are educated guesses made following current trends - as much as speaking about who would win 2020 US elections. In both cases, nobody knows the answer until it happens. In both cases, it still makes sense to talk about it because it is important, it might happen, and talking about it now might prevent undesirable result in the future.

Well, no. All this recent controversy stems from the recent NBA incident.

They can bite me as well. This a foreign nation exerting its will over our politics via economic control. The govt should make strides to curb this imo.

Hopefully tariffs and sanctions convince them to back off. This kind of commercial censorship is arguably a trade infringement that can be responded against in kind.

Every nation is doing the same thing. Remember Cuba?


In this thread, it's pretty easy to spot people who've mostly lived in the US grapple with the experience of being on the sharp-end of a (nascent) foreign hegemon. Expats and non-American's can list countless examples of exertion of American "soft-power" all around the globe, which usually doesn't hit most Americans' radar.

Neither Beijing nor my employer get a say in what I post online, whether it concerns the resemblance between Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh or the true paternity of Jesus H. Christ (my money is on Zeus).

If Apple has "removed" the Taiwanese flag now, soon maybe they'll automatically translate what people say into NewSpeak which is acceptable for the China market. Just saying...

The title of this article is designed to trigger the target audience before they even open the link.

Agreed. There's really no new information here, just that a reporter got someone from an institute to speculate on corporate social media policy.


At some point there will have to be a confrontation with China over its tyranny.

This is not Chinese tyranny, this is the American tyranny called at-will employment.

Or maybe we should start standing up to an authoritarian regime.

oh wait, capitalism. Nevermind. Let's pander to them instead.

> Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg stepped down after one of the airline’s pilots was found to have taken part in the protests.

Wow, that is crazy.

They asked him for a list of employees who participated, and he sent them a list with 1 name: his own. Resigned immediately after. It was a badass move.

Badass move from a badass man with a badass name.

I can't seem to find any indication that it actually happened, though. You happen to have a source? I'd love to read more about the badass that is The Hogg.

You provided two links which both reference the same news source, which cites their source as

> One of the first netizens to share this news, David Ng, a student at the Education University of Hong Kong, told Taiwan News that this information came from a trusted source who works as a manager for Cathay Pacific Airways

Not sure what you want from me, I don't have internal company memos or anything. I'm just sharing what I read in news articles.

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