One thing China’s government certainly isn’t lacking for is filters. The ruling Communist Party is the force behind probably the world's biggest censorship operation, the Great Firewall that isolates the Chinese Internet from many Western sites -- but what about the kind of filters that can be found on Instagram?
A recent discovery by Commentary Made in China, a China-based news blog, was an Instagram account supposedly created by the country’s new leader, Xi Jinping. The account, operating under the handle @XiJinpingOfficial, says that it is the “Official Instagram of Xi Jinping The President of People’s Republic of China,” and even includes the hashtag “#ChineseDream” and a link to China’s main government website.
Granted, it isn’t likely the account is real, considering Xi’s most recent declaration of war against the Internet, but the photo account is a good idea of what an official account might look like. The photos posted on the account are mostly your typical press-photo opportunities of Xi shaking hands with other dignitaries, posing with military personnel and even the obligatory politician-holding-baby shot. There are a few more personal photos, like a shot of a younger, not-yet-president Xi posing in front of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which received a lot of comments in Chinese extolling his youthful good looks.
The account, which seems to have started in March of this year, the same month Xi took office as president, has quietly amassed more than 17,000 followers.
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Anthony Tao at Beijing-based news-bog Beijing Cream says there is a chance the account is real, and managed by an Instagram-savvy, hashtag-heavy public relations/ propaganda officer, because posts are in line with state-run news Xinhua’s reporting of the leader's official trips.
On top of that, Instagram would be the government’s social media platform of choice. Social media has become extremely popular in China. But most Western social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, have been blocked by China’s Great Firewall. One of the exceptions is Instagram, the photo-editing and sharing application platform, which is still widely accessible in China. Because of Instagram’s image-driven content, there is not a lot room for discussion, unlike Facebook or Twitter, despite there being a comment section.
That being said, evidence still suggests that Xi is just the victim of a very keen China watcher or impersonator who knows how to re-post state-approved photos in a timely fashion. The most indicative sign that the account may be fake is that the comment section on various photos can be a mixed bag of positive and negative opinions. It doesn’t seem likely that China’s leader would open himself up to negative commentary on social media without it being vetted carefully.
Still, if Xi’s account were real, he wouldn’t be the first president to be hashtagging and filtering photos. President Barack Obama has an official account, managed by his Organizing for Action staff, which also happens to be one of 16 accounts that the mysterious Xi Instagram account follows. And perhaps more surprisingly, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s account, under the handle @SyrianPresidency, also recently appeared.