Chinese blogger detained, live on Twitter

Twitter often gets a (somewhat deserved) rap for being shallow, filled mostly with people’s thoughts about the weather or what they had for breakfast. But every now and then something important happens, like an earthquake or a forest fire, and the service shows its true potential. The most recent example was the Twitter stream from a Chinese “citizen journalist” or blogger named Zhou “Zhuola” Shuguang, who got a visit from some government officials after he showed up in Beijing to blog about the Olympics. They said they were there to talk with him about a breach of the government’s “one child only” rule (which is more than a little odd, considering Zhou is childless), but it became obvious that what they really wanted was for him to leave Beijing.

Global Voices, the excellent global blogging project founded by Rebecca MacKinnon and the Harvard Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, caught wind of the detainment and started posting translations of Zhou’s Twitter messages, updating the post with each new message as it came in. Not only did several officials put Zhou in a car and drive him back to his hometown, but others also apparently went to visit his parents, saying they wanted to take them out for tea (one of the officials who detained Zhou was an executive with the Changsha Mining Group, the company that Zhou’s father worked for). In his last update the blogger said that he was unharmed, and that he was planning to return to Beijing accompanied by a journalist, in defiance of the authorities.

A fascinating story — or at least the core of a fascinating story — and all told entirely via Twitter. The “first draft of history” indeed.

In China, citizen journalism gets you killed

It’s romantic in a way, the image of “citizen journalists” with their trusty cellphones, capturing news events around the world and allowing everyone to see instant photos or videos. But it can also be very dangerous, as a story out of China shows. As reported by CNN and at TechCrunch, a man who took pictures of a confrontation between townspeople and a company dumping waste was beaten to death by private security guards.

Although many stories describe Wei Wenhua, 41, as “a blogger,” he appears to have been a construction company official who merely started to record the fracas on his cellphone. A group of more than 15 “chengguan,” or private security contractors — sometimes referred to as “city inspectors” — reportedly attacked him and he was dead before he reached the hospital. In a press release, Reporters Without Borders calls Wei the first citizen journalist to die in China.

Facebook coffers go Ka-ching

Despite all the good-natured pokes (or is that Super Pokes?) that Kara Swisher has taken at young Mark Zuckerberg, she’s got a scoop about Facebook, and it’s not even Beacon-related: the company has attracted a $60-million investment from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing — often known as Li Ka-ching, for his ability to turn gigantic heaps of money into even larger heaps of money.

A couple of interesting points to note: Facebook has apparently managed to get the $240-million investment from Microsoft and the $60-million from Li Ka-shing (which apparently didn’t come through either of his usual holding companies) without having to a) protect them from any downside or drop in the company’s valuation, or b) give them a seat on the board of directors. That’s pretty incredible.

It may not be Zuckerberg, but someone on Facebook’s negotiating team has brass cojones — and what’s better, the company continues to get what it is asking for. Rafat Ali at PaidContent sees a possible arrangement between Facebook and Tom Online, the Chinese portal that Ka-shing is chairman of. The big unanswered question, of course, is what the heck is Facebook planning to do with that $300-million?

Next: A Simpson’s medical textbook

xin_3120704301027437122523.jpgI just love this story: an article on multiple sclerosis at Xinhua, the Chinese news site, used a “file photo” of an X-ray that happens to be a still image from The Simpson’s — namely, an X-ray of Homer’s brain. An editorial comment about MS patients? Unlikely. Tony Hung wonders whether it’s a cultural thing, and Joey deVilla at Global Nerdy thinks it might have something to do with the kind of animation used in Asian instruction manuals. I think the explanation is pretty simple: the image is number three when you do a Google image search for the term “X-ray.”

New York Times: Portrait of a virtual sweatshop

Great piece in the New York Times magazine today, in which Julian Dibbel describes his tour of the “gold farms” in China, where young Chinese men toil over their keyboards for 12 hours a day collecting virtual money in games like World of Warcraft, sleeping in cramped dormitories and earning the equivalent of about 25 cents an hour. Stories about gold farming aren’t new, but this is the first time I have read a first-hand description of what they are like, and interviews with gold farmers. There’s also a video intro by Dibbel here (Update: Ed Felten of Freedom to Tinker has some thoughts here).


One of the things that interested me about the story was the fact that there is already a hierarchy in gold farming operations — the lowest level just pays young men to play games all day and collect gold, which is then sold to (primarily) Western players. But the companies that run games like World of Warcraft don’t like the gold farmers, so a second class of operation has developed that takes over the character of a player who wants more gold and plays the game while the owner goes about their real lives.

Is this any worse than a real sweatshop or gold mining operation? Hardly. In fact it’s arguably a lot better, since the only real health risk is either repetitive stress injury or some vitamin-related ailment from never seeing the sun. It’s also interesting that when these young men aren’t working, many of them play World of Warcraft in Internet cafes. It’s difficult to imagine anyone making shoes or t-shirts or mining gold for fun in their off-hours.

Bonus link:

There’s a great photo essay in the magazine as well, which is reproduced in an online slide show: it shows some game players and their avatars. Not surprisingly, there is a severely overweight young man whose avatar is a muscled superhero, and an Asian man whose avatar is a young schoolgirl. But there are also several young women, and one man who clearly has ALS or some other muscle-wasting disease, and is in a wheelchair wearing an oxygen mask — he plays Star Wars Galaxies about 80 hours a week.