Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury, tweeted last week about the 100th anniversary celebrations of China’s ruling Communist Party.
A screenshot of Ms Brady’s account shared by several people over the weekend showed a message from Twitter that said the account was temporarily restricted because of “unusual activity”. It still had the option to view her profile.
Edward Lucas, a columnist for The Times newspaper, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that anyone trying to visit Ms Brady’s account was initially met with this warning screen and after getting past that, some of her tweets could be seen labeled “unavailable”.
He also said that she was locked out of her account and could no longer tweet. The account was finally restored on Monday after Lucas said he sent a number of complaints to Twitter.
Ms Brady later pointed out the tweets which led to her account getting restricted. In one of them, she suggested an alternative headline for an opinion piece on the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations.
She said in the tweet: “Alternative headline: ‘Xi: its my Party and I'll cry if I want to’.”
In a statement, Twitter said that when it detects unusual activity from an account, it can sometimes add temporary notices until it gets confirmation from the account owner.
Lucas had written in his article that it was likely Twitter’s response followed a slurry of complaints coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party, though he didn’t provide evidence to support the existence of such a campaign.
Ms Brady later thanked Lucas for his intervention, writing that it “seems like (at)Twitter may have briefly forgotten they don’t work for Xi Jinping”.
The social media giant would not specify what prompted it to take action against Ms Brady’s account, but said in a statement: “To set the record straight, the assertion that Twitter is in coordination with any government to suppress speech has no basis in fact whatsoever.”
Ms Brady’s academic work has included studies into China’s efforts to exert political pressure in New Zealand, culminating in a 2017 paper entitled “Magic Weapons”. After its publication her home and offices were subjected to repeated burglaries and break-ins, crimes which remain unsolved.
The Chinese Embassy in Wellington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press.
Additional reporting by agencies