When it comes to censorship, "Chinese Internet users can do little," wrote Taiwanese politician and senior opposition party member Hung Chih-kune on Facebook on Oct. 19. "But messing with a Taiwanese like me? [They're] in for some bad luck."
On Oct. 15, Hung (pictured above on the right) wrote on Twitter and Facebook that he had retained a lawyer named Liu Weiguo (pictured above on the left) to sue Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular social media sites, in mainland China; he stated he will also sue the company in the United States and Taiwan. According to Hong Kong's Apple Daily, a popular tabloid newspaper, Hung claimed Sina accepted over $34 in annual VIP membership fees from him -- but frequently censored his posts, even deleting his Weibo account on 50 separate occasions without warning. Hung has used Weibo to share his thoughts about the Taiwan-China relationship and human rights in China. (Sina did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Hung is one of 30 executive committee members of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the country's main opposition party. The DPP is known for its strong advocacy for both human rights and Taiwanese independence from mainland China. While many Chinese Internet users adamantly believe that Taiwan is a part of China, they also admire Taiwan's democratic system and Internet freedom, a sharp contrast to mainland China's one-party political system and censored web.
Hung, who first joined Weibo in February 2013, is fighting censorship in his own way. He belongs to the "Reincarnation Party," a group of Weibo users who repeatedly rejoin Weibo after censors delete their accounts. Censorship on Sina Weibo is often uneven, so "reincarnated" users sometimes escape immediate notice. But Hung's accounts are often deleted as soon as they appear, perhaps due to his predilection for posting political content.
It's not clear whether mainland Chinese courts will even accept lawsuits brought by censored users. In May 2011, a woman surnamed Yu successfully sued Sina after it deleted her Weibo account, but Sina appealed the verdict. Yu claims that in April 2013, the courts overturned the verdict, ruling that the matter was not within its jurisdiction. In addition, Sina, a NASDAQ-listed company worth over $5.7 billion, could almost certainly outspend Hung in a protracted legal battle.
Hung's David-versus-Goliath quest may seem quixotic. But if fighting Internet censorship through legal channels seems ridiculous, Hung's suit is also a sad reminder of a sadder status quo.
Fair use (via Liu Weiguo/Twitter)