Eileen Gu, age 18, just became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing. However, Gu’s accomplishments at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are hardly what anyone’s talking about.
The freestyle skier is under fire for recent comments she made on Instagram defending China’s censorship of the internet. And, ironically enough, her comment defending China’s internet censorship is now being blocked on Chinese social media.
It all started last week with an Instagram user leaving a comment on a Feb. 7 post from Gu.
“Why can you use Instagram and millions of Chinese people from mainland cannot, why you got such special treatment as a Chinese citizen,” the comment in the Olympian’s Instagram replies read. “That’s not fair, can you speak up for those millions of Chinese who don’t have internet freedom”
The comment clearly caught Gu’s eye because she responded directly.
“Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store,” Gu answered, ending the post with a thumbs up emoji.
A screenshot of the comment eventually made its way to Weibo, a China-based social media platform that’s like Instagram and Twitter, which are both blocked in the country.
As Protocol reported, many of Weibo’s users were quite outraged over Gu’s comment, pointing out that VPN services are in fact not freely available on the App Store in China. And, as the Weibo post featuring Gu’s Instagram comment started to gain traction on the social network, it was subsequently censored.
The post, which has now garnered close to 4,000 shares and nearly 1,000 comments, is still available on Weibo. However, the screenshot in the Weibo post featuring Gu’s Instagram comment is not resolving, replaced instead with just a blank placeholder image.
Gu’s claim that Chinese citizens can just use freely available VPN apps isn’t quite true either. Sure, VPNs are used in the country. But, it is illegal to use them to get around China’s Great Firewall. The Chinese government has also started to dole out punishments over the past few years to users caught utilizing VPNs.
Critics on Weibo have also blasted Gu for being oblivious to the privileged position she is in, referencing what had made Gu such a controversial figure in the first place – well before her comments about Chinese internet censorship.
The 18-year-old freestyle skier was born in San Francisco, California, which makes her a U.S. citizen. Yet, she has chosen to represent China in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. That alone isn’t too controversial, a number of athletes with dual citizenships have chosen to play for other countries in prior Olympic games. However, China does not allow for dual citizenship and there is no record that Gu has given up her American citizenship.
Clearly, to the people of China, exceptions are being made for Gu that aren’t afforded to them. And while the 18-year-old can’t be blamed for these circumstances, her recent Instagram comment seems to make her an easy target for Chinese citizens to vent their frustrations at.