The fake image, showing an Australian soldier threatening a young child with a knife at the throat, was posted on Twitter by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Nov. 30. Zhao used the image to accuse Australian soldiers of “murdering Afghan civilians.” He posted the tweet following a recent investigation that found that some Australian special forces soldiers killed unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
The fake image was created by a Chinese graphic artist named Fu Yu, who published the image on his Weibo account on Nov. 23. Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The image has since drawn outcry in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology from Zhao, saying it was a “terrible slur” on Australian soldiers. The Australian government is also seeking to have Twitter remove the image.
On Dec. 1, Twitter rejected Australia’s calls, but marked Zhao’s tweet as “sensitive.” The social media giant said that comments on political issues or “foreign policy saber-rattling” by official government accounts usually don’t violate its rules, according to an AFP report.
“It appears Twitter made an intentional decision not to remove the tweet or even issue a warning label. We know your company has the ability to move rapidly, as it frequently issued warning labels on tweets of prominent Americans during the election—sometimes within minutes of a tweet being sent,” Rubio wrote.
Rubio then asked Dorsey to answer several questions: “Did Twitter conduct a review of the tweet? If so, what was the nature of that review and why was no action taken as a result? If not, why was the tweet not subject to review?
“Do you stand by the process and the decision? If not, what steps have been taken to avoid such mistakes in the future?”
Finally, Rubio asked Dorsey to comment on whether Twitter “wants to operate in China in the future” and if so, “has it had any conversations with relevant officials or entities in China?”
Rubio later took to his Twitter account, comparing the social media giant’s response to the doctored image versus a tweet by President Donald Trump.
“When Trump tweeted about sending in the national guard to protect a city against looting @twitter blocked it for ‘violating terms,’” the senator wrote.
“But when a [government] official from #China tweets a fake image that could result in violence they only label it ‘potentially sensitive content.’”
In May, Trump wrote on Twitter that he would “send in the National Guard” to Minneapolis, after several days of unrest and protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody. Trump’s second tweet, in which he wrote, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was hidden by Twitter for “glorifying violence.”
Trump later clarified that his second tweet was referring to the risk of people getting shot during riots in Minneapolis.
When reporters asked China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Dec. 1 about Morrison’s response to the tweet, she accused the Australian government of wanting to “divert attention” away from the report about Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
In response to Zhao’s accusation on Twitter, the U.S. State Department summoned China’s ambassador Cui Tiankai for a “stern representation,” a department official said.
Twitter later added a fact-check tag to Zhao’s tweet, which remains visible.