Some Thoughts on Ai Weiwei and Jack Dorsey from ReadWriteWeb’s Social Media Activism Panel

The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.

ReadWriteWeb hosted a very interesting panel today, live-streamed on the net. The panelists were famous Chinese activist Ai Weiwei (follow his Twitter feed @aiww for a constant stream of challenges to the Chinese government on various issues), Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and ReadWriteWeb founder Richard MacManus.

The discussion was themed around the role of social media (and especially Twitter) in political activism. I felt the discussion hovered around basic questions, such as Ai Weiwei explaining the basic differences in tweeting in English and Chinese, and asking Jack Dorsey “when will you roll out a Chinese language version of Twitter?” To which Dorsey said it was a matter of time – an answer that Ai said he was not happy with.

Some interesting moments / quotes from the panelists:

  • Dorsey: At one point he somewhat surprisingly admitted that he had only learned 3 weeks ago that Twitter was being blocked in China.
  • Dorsey: He also confessed that he has no knowledge of how to technically overcome the Great Fire Wall, which must have been disappointing to some users who had hoped Twitter engineering would directly tackle censorship in regions like Iran and China.
  • Ai: He commented that the panel with Dorsey was like a “blind date”, since he didn’t know what to expect.
  • Ai: Admitted that he is on Twitter 8 hours a day, and he gets most of his news through the service.
  • Au: During the Q&A he stated that “If we had Twitter earlier, history would be rewritten, and I would be much more famous than my father [note: his father is a famous Chinese poet].”
  • One Chinese American lady during the Q&A took an apologist role for the Chinese government and said it should be given more time to lift China out of poverty before tackling democracy. Ai later asked her name and what her venture was in China (a PE firm). Chinese human flesh search engine in action!

Ai Weiwei was at the center of much of the discussion with quite a lot of the Q&A addressing “sensitive topics” such as human rights and China’s one-party rule. In addition, Google Inc.(NASDAQ: GOOG) was also frequently discussed with respect to the ongoing Google-China content filtering spat.

On the whole, I thought the Q&A was much more interesting than the main panel itself, but the discussion lacked depth, partly due to the wide range of topics that could be discussed, and partly due to issues with language / cultural context. Still, it’s a great publicity event for Ai, and if more people become aware of these activists’ efforts, it’s no doubt a good development for the Chinese web.

You can watch the complete video of the panel and Q&A below:

Watch live streaming video from readwriteweb at

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