Indian prime minister Narendra Modi just tweeted another selfie—not so surprising given his love for the photo format. But who it was with, and where it was taken, are somewhat shocking.
Modi appears with Chinese premier Li Keqiang, standing in front of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
Here’s another view:
What makes this so notable?
Well, first of all, China’s top politicians—particularly, those on the very top—don’t really “do” selfies with other people. Just last month, Chinese president Xi Jinping appeared in what Chinese state media excitedly called his very first selfie, with Fadli Zon from the Indonesian parliament. (Li, as far as we can tell, has never appeared in a public selfie, pre-Modi.)
But, second of all—and most amazingly—Modi swiftly put the photo right out on Twitter, just as he has been tweeting much of his trip in China.
Twitter, like Facebook and Google, is blocked in China by the “Great Firewall,” China’s state-run censorship machine that scrubs the internet so that Chinese citizens can’t see of any references critical to the Communist Party and its leaders, or that question their authority.
In order to tweet in China, then, Modi must have been using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), or software that allows him to go around the Great Firewall—something the Chinese authorities have been ruthlessly cracking down on in recent months as part of Xi’s ongoing, and some say brutal, increase in censorship.
Modi, of course, has built a reputation of using technology—particularly, social media—to build his carefully-managed public image.
In the run up to the 2014 general elections in India, he brought in 3-D projection technology to simultaneously hold political rallies in multiple locations. Alongside, his massive social media presence, which then was focused on Facebook and Twitter, gave him very useful traction among India’s young voters.
Since becoming prime minister, Modi’s social media following has exploded. He is now the world’s second most followed world leader on Twitter (after US president Barack Obama). And on Facebook, he has over 28 million likes (and counting).