Prominent Tibetan writer and activist Tsering Woeser told the New York Times on Saturday that Facebook deleted one of her posts about a monk who set himself on fire to protest the Chinese government.
Woeser says that she has posted many stories about monks setting themselves on fire, which is becoming an increasingly common method of protesting against China's occupation of Tibet. This was the first time a post had been deleted.
Woeser wrote a short post about Kalsang Yeshi, a 37-year-old monk who on Dec. 23 lit himself on fire in front of a police station in Sichuan and died. Her post included a link to a video about Yeshi's death.
On Friday, Facebook sent Woeser a message saying that her post had been deleted because it did not "meet Facebook's community standards."
"I was really surprised. I couldn't believe my eyes," Woeser told the Times. "I thought, 'How is it that this has become like a Chinese website?'"
The censorship sparked concerns among Woeser and other Tibetans that Facebook could have been politically motivated.
In October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg said he wanted to expand to China — a nation that now blocks Facebook — and spoke in Mandarin to a group of students in Beijing.
The Guardian reported that while speaking in Beijing, Zuckerberg said he wanted to help Chinese companies increase their business by using Facebook advertising to find more overseas customers, and wanted to "help different places in the world understand China."
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News on Sunday, Facebook said that it did not delete Woeser's post for political reasons, and was instead concerned about the graphic nature of the post:
Facebook has long been a place where people share things and experiences. Sometimes, those experiences involve violence and graphic videos. We work hard to balance expression and safety. However, since some people object to graphic videos, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content. We do not currently have these tools available and as a result we have removed this content.
Since Feb. 27, 2009, about 136 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest China’s occupation, according to The International Campaign for Tibet.
BuzzFeed News has also reached out to Tsering Woeser and a spokesperson for the NGO The Tibetan Women's Association.