Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sparked an online debate Friday by posting a photo of himself jogging without a face mask in the center of the Chinese capital, which is suffering a new spike in air pollution levels.
Zuckerberg announced his arrival in Beijing by uploading the photo to Facebook, which is blocked in China and only accessible via a virtual private network, drawing over 150,000 responses from Web users in the space of just a few hours.
“It’s great to be back in Beijing! I kicked off my visit with a run through Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City and over to the Temple of Heaven,” Facebook’s chairman and CEO, who was accompanied by several running companions who also opted not to use face masks, wrote in his post.
“This also marks 100 miles in A Year of Running. Thanks to everyone who has been running with me – both in person and around the world!” his message added.
One Facebook user noted that the ground the social media entrepreneur had stepped on “has been covered by blood from students who fought for democracy. But, enjoy your running in China, Mark,” alluding to the Chinese regime’s violent suppression of protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The setting for the morning jog – with Mao’s portrait overlooking the emblematic square in the background – stirred a furious debate on Facebook, with many also wondering why the billionaire had not used a protective mask considering the sky in the background was visibly smoggy.
“Mark, don’t you see the air pollution? Stop running outside! Beijing is my home, but I’m not recommending you run outside,” one user, Christina Tan, pleaded.
“Forgetting something? #Markzuckerberg Smog kills thousands every day. Wear a mask!” Greenpeace’s East Asian office said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the company that designed the social network Weibo, China’s equivalent of Facebook, kickstarted the debate by uploading Zuckerberg’s picture while noting that pollution levels at the time of his jog were over ten times the limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
While Zuckerberg has done little to hide his desire for Facebook use to be permitted in the Asian giant, some sectors of the country find his praise of the world’s second-largest economy excessive.
Leisure magazine The Beijinger seemed to echo the sentiment on Friday, posing the question, “How far would you go to curry favor with China?”