Evan Osnos looks at the impact of Twitter in China, where it is blocked but still accessible by proxy by those who make the effort to join. Osnos describes a Twitter encounter that happened while he was eating dinner with Ai Weiwei and his fans in Chengdu:
While I was at the dinner table, gnawing on a pig’s trotter in broth, my cell-phone buzzed with a text message from a friend in Beijing, thirteen hundred miles away: “Are you in Chengdu with Ai Weiwei? People on Twitter have identified you in a photo.” Moreover, he said, people online were already hypothesizing correctly that it must mean that a profile of Ai Weiwei was in the offing. Even by the standards of the Web, it was a startling demonstration of the rhythm and mores of micro-blogging in China. Later that night, I went back for a forensic look at the Twitter traffic that had been circulating during dinner. I found that one of the Chinese diners had posted a grainy cell-phone picture of our table, with my face among a dozen tiny smudges. From there, Twitter users in Beijing and Cambridge, Mass., had picked out some faces they recognized, sent on the info in Chinese or English, where it caught the eye of my friend in Beijing, who closed the loop by sending me the text message. All before we had finished eating our pig’s feat.