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Why the appointment of Twitter's new China chief, Kathy Chen, is kicking up a storm

New Delhi: Unlike many nations, social media in China does not boast of its usual characteristics. Openness, criticism and debate – these are terms that social media users in this Communist nation rarely speak about.
India TV Tech Desk April 19, 2016 19:13 IST
India TV Tech Desk

New Delhi: Unlike many nations, social media in China does not boast of its usual characteristics. Openness, criticism and debate – these are terms that social media users in this Communist nation rarely speak about. Indulgence, therefore, is a strict no-no. China’s social media censorship is no revelation; it has been discussed and deliberated upon by social media champions across the globe (of course not in China).  

The development that drew our attention to this otherwise mundane topic for many is the appointment of Twitter’s new managing director for China, Kathy Chen. If you think an irony is on its way, you sure are right!

Kathy was once the chief executive of CA-Jinchen, a firm which operates China's Great Firewall, a censorship and surveillance project that blocks potentially ‘unfavorable’ incoming data from foreign countries. It is, like many things in China, run and controlled by the government.  

Her appointment, as expected has left Twitter users surprised and they have raised eyebrows over Chen's appointment to the social media platform that has led to several movements and revolutions since its incieption despite her past links to the Chinese government.

 “A big welcome to Twitter, @KathyChen2016! She joins us as our MD for China!”, chief executive officer Jack Dorsey said in a tweet.

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According to Chen's LinkedIn profile, reports Financial Times, she was the chief executive of CA-Jinchen, which she described as a “joint venture company formed by Computer Associates International and ministry of public security of China”. The firewall that China runs falls under the direct control of this ministry.

With CA-Jinchen from 1999 to 2005, her role was focused on the “information security industry, providing products, solutions, security applications, and comprehensive services,” she wrote on her profile.

The clients of CA-Jinchen included the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team, which operates China's Great Firewall.

China's Great Firewall keeps the vast majority of Chinese from using the service, part of a censor-knows-best strategy that stops many people from accessing Facebook, Instagram, Google and a growing list sites, including the New York Times, and more.

Twitter is blocked in China since 2009. So hiring of a China director was a little awkward from the start. Chen seemed to compound that awkwardness by using her first tweet "Lets work together to tell great China story to the world!" she wrote.

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The Great Firewall can be scaled using virtual private networks and, over the past 10 years, Twitter has earned a small but loyal fan base.

At Twitter, Chen will focus on building its advertising business in China and will work with developers and others who interact with the platform. Due to the complicated relationship between Twitter and China, working with advertisers will also include dealing with Chinese outlets such as Xinhua, the state news agency, and People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper that have increased their presence on Twitter recently.