Mark Zuckerberg’s latest attempt to woo China’s Facebook-deprived people may have backfired.
The Facebook Inc. founder posted a photo of himself jogging on a smoggy day in Beijing, causing a stir on social media. The picture of the 31-year-old making his way past Tiananmen Square below the iconic portrait of late Communist leader Mao Zedong resulted in more than 150,000 interactions, such as likes and comments. They spanned those ridiculing his braving the air without a mask in a city where pollution is a daily concern, to outrage over his decision to highlight the sensitive site of a violent 1989 crackdown.
Zuckerberg’s interactions with the world’s most populous nation have attracted wide attention, from addressing students in Mandarin in 2014 to touting a book by President Xi Jinping. But Friday’s photo touched a nerve among people for whom the plaza is linked with one of China’s most controversial episodes.
“The floor you stepped has been covered by blood from students who fought for democracy. But, enjoy your running in China, Mark,” a user going by Cao Yuzhou wrote in one of the top-ranked comments on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page.
Not all the comments were as virulent. Many merely poked fun at the world’s eighth-richest man: among the memes making the rounds was a photo-shopped image of Zuckerberg jogging before the famous picture of a line of tanks during the crackdown. Charlene Chian, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment in an e-mailed statement.
“Mark, don’t you see the air pollution? Stop running outside! Beijing is my home, but I’m not recommending you run outside,” commented a user who went by Tan Peinong.
The billionaire has appeared several times in China, where the world’s largest social network has been blocked by censors since 2009. The company was said to have rented office space in the capital in 2014 and has sought to build up a business selling ads.
On Friday, some defended Zuckerberg from the criticism.
“He’s not cowardly sitting by a screen typing useless words but trying to change this world by working very hard,” went another commenter called Hugo Wang.