We have often discussed the hypocrisy of leaders and social media companies proclaiming their faith in free speech while promoting unprecedented levels of censorship. However, the layers of hypocrisy in a story out of London is breathtaking. Gen. To Lam was shown recently on a trip to visit the grave of Karl Marx. That is hardly surprising for a Communist leader. What followed was a tad surprising. To Lam is shown eating a steak covered in 24-karat gold flakes at a restaurant owned by the social media star and restaurateur known as Salt Bae. It costs $1,150 per steak. Facebook later suspended Salt Bae’s hashtag as the scandal exploded in Vietnam. It is not the first time social media has intervened to assist foreign authoritarian or government interests. This story may prove Marx’s prediction that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
General Lam, Vietnam’s minister of public security, was visiting Britain for a global summit on climate change in Glasgow, and then led a group on Nov. 2 to the grave of Karl Marx where they “paid respect to those … on whose theories the Vietnamese people overthrew systems of oppression ruled by colonialists and imperialists.” He then incongruously went to the London restaurant run by Nusret Gokce, who is known as Salt Bae for his dramatic way to put salt on food.
In one video on YouTube, Mr. Gokce serves three gold-covered steaks to a table of three men, including the general, as various people stand around them in rapt excitement.
Vietnam quickly moved to block the video and the widely used hashtag #saltbae was temporarily blocked on Facebook.
Facebook later expressed a total lack of knowledge on why the hashtag was suspended. However, this is not the first such intervention by social media companies in support of foreign governments. These companies, which routinely censor many in the United States in the name of protecting democracy, have intervened in support of some of the most anti-Democatic figures on Earth.
We have previously discussed Twitter’s robust censorship program that repeatedly has been denounced for bias in taking sides on scientific, social, and political controversies. Twitter admitted to censoring criticism of India’s government and the company later flagged a critic of the Chinese government. YouTube later censored material from pro-Democracy opponents to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
As for General Lam, he is unlikely deterred by the image of a communist eating gold-encrusted steak. After all, as Marx observed, “for the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him.”