The New Yorker
, supplements his
profile of now-dissident artist Ai Weiwei
with a blog post
describing how Twitter works in China
and, incidentally, what it can do to the process of reporting:
[O]ne night I went to dinner in the central city of Chengdu with Ai Weiwei, who had been using Twitter all afternoon to invite like-minded people to join him for the evening. Most of them were strangers to him and each other, but, as I describe in the piece:
His fans began showing up in twos and threes, a lively crowd of mostly young professionals, including lawyers, Web designers, and journalists. The restaurant eventually ran out of seats, so it set up folding tables and plastic stools out front, and soon Ai’s group stretched along the sidewalk. It was a digital free-for-all, with everyone at the tables snapping photographs and sending updates to Twitter from cell phones.
While I was at the dinner table, gnawing on a pig’s trotter in broth, my cell-phone buzzed with a text message from a friend in Beijing, thirteen hundred miles away: "Are you in Chengdu with Ai Weiwei? People on Twitter have identified you in a photo." Moreover, he said, people online were already hypothesizing correctly that it must mean that a profile of Ai Weiwei was in the offing.