Vice magazine and Naomi Wu

Capitalist Roader Balding is not happy with Vice magazine, which is alleged to have endangered Chinese DIY enthusiast and YouTube personality Naomi Wu by circulating rumors about her personal life, in clear breach of its earlier promises to Wu:

Full thread:

This is an important post and something I fully identify with and was way out of bounds by @VICE and @sarahjeong. As @RealSexyCyborg notes, any China based journalist gets the very real potential danger anyone in China faces speaking on anything publicly. Couple of notes 1/n

1. Journalist/investors/think tankers who say I spent a long weekend in Beijing/Hong Kong/Singapore/Seoul a few years ago so I understand China, let me explain it gently: you don’t know jack. The sooner you understand that, the better we all will be 2/n

2. As outsiders you do not understand the very real danger you put people in by disclosing information that people in China do not want disclosed. Does not matter how trivial does not matter how seemingly irrelevant and non-political, your idiocy puts people in danger 3/n

3. Speaking from experience, I was told in November 2017 PKU was letting me go. I told almost no one because of the very real concern someone either trying to get a scoop or by accident would publicize this information. At that point, I’m in very real danger as a story 4/n

4. It doesn’t matter whether you deem the subjects fears rational or irrational. They know the situation better than you. People in China get disappeared for nothing. You put people in danger by disclosing information even if you think it is irrelevant 5/n

5. China based journalists and those with any experience in China are very understanding and cautious with information. They experience the same problems and would never knowingly put a China source in danger. I’ve never dealt with China based journo who wasn’t excellent here 6/n

6. Personally, if I ever found out a journalist did not treat my name and safety with care, I would never answer their phone call again, maybe from their entire organization, and would complain loudly depending on the safety/info breach.

7. Even though I believe race and gender issues are overused as fall back reasons, I cannot help but think if something similar happened to me with a media organizations, the reaction would have been very different as a white American male.

8. In short, I fully sympathize with @RealSexyCyborg and find @VICE and @sarahjeong’s handling of everything repugnant. Done.

Balding is responding to this article by Wu. Here is the Vice piece in question. Here is Vice’s response to the allegations by Wu.

It certainly appears that Vice broke its promises and betrayed Wu, in a totally unethical act of journalistic malpractice. Given what Wu describes as her vulnerable situation in China, this is a disgrace. Vice’s response piece is dishonest as well, claiming that “We did not make an agreement to avoid asking specific questions.” Judging by the messages reproduced by Wu, this is the exact opposite of the truth. Also, Vice’s statement that “Our interests in this case are reporting accurately and protecting the safety of our employees” is notable for omitting any mention of Wu’s safety, which Vice effusively promised to protect at the outset of the process.

This is very shady behavior by Vice and should be strongly condemned.

Having said all that, as a person who has lived in China and professionally edited English documents by native Chinese speakers, I was struck by one curious aspect of this story. The internet commentary that appears under Wu’s name is written in perfect, idiomatic, American-style English. At first glance, this is easily explained by Wu’s own acknowledgement of a helping hand behind at least some of her writing. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. After all, Wu is by her own account a 24-year-old woman from Shenzhen who has never even visited the West. It’s only natural that someone like Wu would seek and receive help in communicating with her global fan base.

If you check out her Twitter account though, it’s very obvious that all of Wu’s tweets are being written by one or more native English speakers. (I base this on a random sample of Wu’s recent tweets; there are some 15,000 tweets under her name.) And again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a young internet star in mainland China communicating in the voice of an educated, urbane, and somewhat snarky American, except for the mild cognitive dissonance it induces, like when watching a skillful ventriloquist act.

If I were reporting on this story, I might like to know more about the nature and extent of the help that Wu receives in crafting her online persona. But this is all speculation, and I would never betray or lie to an interview subject or sacrifice her safety for the sake of telling a story.

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