Li’s appointment came after she left her role as chief scientist of AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) at Google Cloud in October 2018 following a controversy surrounding Google’s Project Maven initiative, which helped the Pentagon identify drone targets from blurry video footage.
France-based commentator Wang Longmeng said hiring Li to work at Twitter was like hiring a fox to guard the hen-coop.
“They seem to have ignored the backstory of Li’s previous cooperation with China,” he said. “Li Fei-fei … secretly opposed Google’s cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense from a high moral standpoint … but turned a blind eye to Project Dragonfly, in which Google was planning to help the Chinese Communist Party vet online speech.”
“I hope that democratic countries will reflect on this and start plugging the loopholes,” he said. “Fei-fei Li is very likely to be one of those loopholes.”
Key military technology
Li is also an adviser on AI to China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. Its vice president You Zheng has said that the university’s AI research has two main purposes, one of which is to meet national defense needs under a “military-civilian integration policy.”
In addition, Li has been linked to a students’ association under the aegis of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
Mainland media reports listed her as a guest at China Overseas Talent Exchange Conferences in the southern city of Guangzhou in 2017 and in Beijing in 2018, both of which were hosted by the European and American Alumni Association under the aegis of the United Front Work Department.
Li also has ties to the Beijing-based Future Forum for the development of mobile technology with a strong 5G focus. The organization operates under the aegis of the state-run China Association for Science and Technology, and is supported by Beijing’s Chaoyang District Government, according to its website.
The Forum has been linked with some of the biggest names in Chinese technology, including NetEase founder Ding Lei and Baidu founder Li Yanhong. More interestingly, there are a number of descendants of veteran revolutionaries involved in the organization — including Zhu Yulai, son of former premier Zhu Rongji, and Liu Lefei, son of former Politburo member Liu Yunshan.
Uphold free speech
She said that the company has already issued “blue tick” symbols to accounts operated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party regime, including the Chinese foreign ministry, state-run Xinhua news agency, and the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the ruling party.
“One of Twitter ’s certification criteria is that [blue-tick accounts] should work for the public good,” Xia said. “How can you certify a government agency that monitors people’s internet use and suppresses freedom of expression? Twitter needs to do more.”
Xia cited the recent detention of former journalist Zhang Jialong, who was tried on public order charges for comments made on social media this month.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Zheng Chongsheng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.