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Follow the Hashtag

Chinese investors take to Twitter to expose alleged scam

Western social media are censored in China. But hundreds of desperate investors are getting over the "Great Firewall" to expose their losses from what they accused was a financial fraud.

Under the government censorship mechanism - the Great Firewall - Chinese Internet users have limited access to international websites. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are also not accessible.

Although there are ways of getting through "the Wall," such as using Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy services, many ordinary citizens are satisfied with the information already available on Chinese Internet or state news agencies.

However, a group of Fanya Metal Exchange investors, who claimed to have lost their life savings to a suspected financial scam, decided to "climb the wall" and take to Twitter as an alternative to draw international attention to their plight.

Twitter initiative

Last year, hundreds of investors protested outside both the offices of Fanya Metal Exchange and China's financial regulators in Beijing and Shanghai, claiming to have lost $6 billion. They complained about the government's inaction to investigate into what they claimed was a scam.

But since the protest, the government is yet to take any action on the alleged fraud. Xiao Fen - not her real name - is a 30-year-old investor who started calling on other victims to use Twitter as a platform to continue voicing their complaints.

"All of our posts on Chinese social media were deleted. We have no choice but to resort to Twitter," she told DW, "Chinese media are also unwilling to report or follow up on our case because of pressure from authorities."

Since April, Xiao Fen and some 300 other investors who have lost their money started using the hashtag #Fanya to tweet their complaints. In addition to uploading pictures and videos of their physical protests, many users also add the sentence "Please pay attention to Fanya event."

They are also aware of the importance of drawing the attention of the international media. In order to do that, they tag a lot of different well-known Twitter accounts in each of their posts.

"If we didn't add media accounts, I don't think a lot of people would notice our posts. We believe foreign media would be more willing to report our case because they are not under political pressure," 31-year-old Tina Tao, an investor who has put around $23,000 saving into the exchange, told DW.

"I believe there is media freedom out there," she added.

Although many documents and videos they uploaded are in Chinese, these Twitter users always tried to write the posts in English.

Another investor, 42-year-old Tian Jinye told DW that a lot of them use translation tools to help with their English posts, and sometimes foreign Twitter users who understand Chinese would offer help with translations.

"We hope that our action on Twitter will put pressure on the government to give us back our money," says Tian. "But even if our effort does not achieve anything in the end, at least we tried and we won't regret it."

World outside the "Wall"

Tao had only started using Twitter after their protests on Chinese social media failed. Like many other Chinese internet users, she was aware of the possibility to get access to foreign media by using proxy service, but she never bothered.

But taking to Twitter did increase the impact of their actions. At the same time, she was surprised by what she saw and read.

"We discovered so many things that we never knew before. We were really shocked by the news and information we could see out there," said Tao.

Because Chinese media report about international news every day, Tao has always believed she has been keeping track of what's happening in the world.

"I was really shocked when I read the news about the Panama Papers, and found information of the June Fourth incident [Tiananmen Square Massacre]," Tao added. "I didn't know so much has been censored in China. It's shocking. It's even scary."

Xiao Fen said it is already a success that their Twitter action has been picked up by international media. But if the government still does not react to their demands, they plan to hold physical protests to Hong Kong or Singapore and gather more investors to join the Twitter action.