Ai Weiwei says he’s changed his mind about social media: ‘They will not allow what they don’t like’

·1-min read
Ai Weiwei and Anthony Gormley are involved in The Great British Art Exhibition (Getty Images)
Ai Weiwei and Anthony Gormley are involved in The Great British Art Exhibition (Getty Images)

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has warned that social media’s potential to aid freedom of speech and protect civil rights is being curtailed by their owner’s commercial interests.

The 63-year-old dissident is a frequent user of Twitter and Instagram and has been a long-time champion of social media, particularly in China where internet access is restricted by the state.

However, discussing the spread of misinformation on the platforms and the armies of bots controlled by governments like China and Russia, he told The Independent that social media is “likely almost impossible to clean it up”.

“Social media is like a print of reality,” he said in the interview, which is published today (Saturday 15 May). “Reality is so messy, and social media is a mirror image of it.”

“At the very beginning I gave it high praise,” he continued. “I thought social media could be a fertile ground for freedom of speech, and could help us to better protect civil rights. It’s not true, because even social media is owned by big companies. Clearly, they will allow what they like and not allow what they don’t like.”

Ai was speaking on the eve of the opening of his exhibition Trace at the Skirball Cultural Centre in Los Angeles.

Trace includes the artist’s wallpaper installation The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but Is Really an Alpaca, which features a pattern made up from icons of surveillance such as handcuffs and CCTV cameras, along with repeated images of Twitter’s bird logo.

You can read his full interview with The Independent here.

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