Beijing (HRNW) Over the past couple of weeks, Chinese citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin have served as the world’s eyes and ears inside the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the city of Wuhan. Broadcasting via their mobile phones, they’ve offered a glimpse of how dire things have been. Many of those videos have been posted to Twitter and reposted on YouTube.
Now one of them is missing.
Chen has been out of reach for more than 20 hours. Fang, who was silent much of Friday until a video posted in the evening, was previously detained briefly by authorities for his video of corpses in a hospital. When he filmed the dramatic moment people in hazmat suits broke down his apartment door to take him into quarantine, it sparked hundreds of comments urging the authorities to release him.
It’s no accident that their posts grew viral on American platforms. China’s internet watchdog has stepped up its policing efforts, announcing on Wednesday it would conduct “targeted supervision” on the largest social media platforms including Weibo, Tencent’s WeChat and ByteDance’s Douyin. The regulator has already frozen a raft of social media accounts, then stepped up online scrubbing to quiet a wave of confused outrage over the death of the doctor that first raised red flags about the disease.
In this environment, U.S.-based Twitter has emerged as the destination for locals seeking information about the spread of the virus. It’s officially banned in the country, but many people hop the Great Firewall and access the platform via virtual private networks.