Beijing Olympics gold medalist Eileen Gu has found herself in hot water with some fans after divulging a potentially illegal way to avoid internet censorship at the games.
“Why can you use Instagram and millions of Chinese people from mainland cannot,” an Instagram user asked on one of her posts. “That’s not fair, can you speak up for those millions of Chinese who don’t have internet freedom.”
“Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store,” Gu said, and added a thumbs-up emoji. A VPN, virtual private network, can be used to change one’s location—enabling the ability to eschew firewalls.
This advice was ill-received by fans, many of whom pointed out that unauthorized VPN use is illegal in China.
Since arriving at the games, the 18-year-old, born in San Francisco but competing as a freestyle skier for her mother’s native China, has posted on social media, which drew the ire and attention of many fans in China. Many social networking sites, if not all, are blocked as part of China’s Great Firewall—an attempt by the government to censor and control information.
Others claimed preferential treatment; in 2017, a University of Washington student was detained for months after using a VPN to log in to a school system to submit homework.
“No matter what I say, if people don’t have a good heart, they won’t believe me because they can’t empathize with people who do have a good heart,” Gu said. “So in that sense, I feel as though it’s a lot easier to block out the hate now. And also, they’re never going to know what it feels like to win an Olympic gold medal.”
Gu grew up in the Sea Cliff neighborhood and took ski lessons in Tahoe; she initially competed for the U.S. before petitioning for change of nation in 2019. Gu has declined to comment on her current U.S. citizenship status, as China does not recognize dual citizens.
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