Marriott International’s social media accounts across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have been dark since China accused the company of breaking a cybersecurity law and advertisement law on January 11th. The accounts have resumed posting within the past few hours, one week after they stopped.
The Shanghai government had shut down Marriott’s Chinese website and mobile app for a week as punishment for a Mandarin-language survey sent to customers that listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as separate countries, as reported by Reuters. There was backlash from the Chinese public as well. Marriott’s Instagram posts from a week ago are littered with comments like “get out of China” and “remember!people’s republic of china!only one!marriott hotels roll out of china!”
Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson then issued a statement saying, “Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China… We don’t support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups. We recognize the severity of the situation and sincerely apologize.”
Although social media was not mentioned as part of the repercussions levied against Marriott by China, the company’s accounts have been quiet. These accounts include Marriott Hotels, Marriott Rewards, and even US-specific locations like Marriott Chicago Downtown on Instagram; Marriott, Marriott Rewards, and Courtyard Marriott on Facebook; and Marriott International, Marriott Rewards, and Marriott Rewards Europe on Twitter. Accounts for other brands owned by Marriott, like Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz Carlton, were dark as well. Accounts across all platforms have started to resume posting within the past couple of hours, one week after the website and app ban.
Marriott’s absence on social media was first spotted by David Ramli at Business Insider. Today, state-run outlet China Daily published that after the survey was removed, the company “shut down its six websites and apps in Chinese, and put a freeze on its social media across the world.” It is not indicated if the social media shut down was issued by the Chinese government as well.
Almost all of Marriott’s many global accounts stopped tweeting on Jan 10, followed by a capitulating apology on Jan 11. Since then, its accounts have only sent replies. If it turns out this was ordered by Chinese authorities it greatly changes the calculus of doing business here. https://t.co/G8bf2hs6zf
— David Ramli (@Davidramli) January 18, 2018
Although it is popular outside of China for companies to list Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau separately (for example, when booking a plane ticket), it’s when they are listed as independent countries that it becomes problematic for the Chinese government. Hong Kong and Macau are officially part of China, Taiwan is a state claimed by China, and Tibet is a region ruled by China, though some say it is an independent state under illegal occupation.
It’s unclear if China directly told Marriott to stop posting on social media in accordance with their week-long website and app ban. If it did, it clearly sets a bad precedent for a country to have power over international accounts of an independent company. On the other hand, without confirmation it also could have been a self-imposed blackout while the company handled the issue.
This is not the first time companies have changed policy or online content in response to Chinese government demands. Recently, both Zara and Delta adjusted their websites and publicly apologized after listing some of these “inalienable regions” as separate countries. And, last year, Apple removed major VPN apps from its Chinese App store, citing local law. Marriott has not yet responded to a request for comment.