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An Orwellian Kodak Moment

The Kodak logo in a booth during the 2017 CES in Las Vegas, Nev., January 6, 2017 (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Kodak became the latest U.S. brand to censor itself and apologize to the Chinese government for speaking the truth this week.

The ailing photography company deleted an Instagram post in which it had promoted the work of Patrick Wack, a French photographer, capturing scenes from China’s Xinjiang region. In his own posts, Wack called Xinjiang an “Orwellian dystopia.” Kodak’s offending post drew from Wack’s forthcoming book of photographs from Xinjiang.

The Hong Kong Free Press reported on the differences between the company’s English-language statement on Instagram and the one it posted to WeChat:

“Content from the photographer Patrick Wack was recently posted on this Instagram page. The content of the post was provided by the photographer and was not authored by Kodak,” the company’s statement on Tuesday read, after the post was deleted.

It added that its Instagram page was not intended to be a “platform for political commentary” and disabled comments on the post in question.

“The views expressed by Mr. Wack do not represent those of Kodak and are not endorsed by Kodak. We apologize for any misunderstanding or offense the post may have caused,” the company said.

In a separate statement on Chinese social media WeChat, the company vowed to cooperate with the Chinese government and respect Beijing.

“For a long time, Kodak has maintained a good relationship with the Chinese government and has been in close cooperation with various government departments. We will continue to respect the Chinese government and the Chinese law,” the statement read.

“We will keep ourselves in check and correct ourselves, taking this as an example of the need for caution,” it added, saying “management loopholes” may have been responsible for the post.

The differences between Kodak’s statements on the two platforms are striking, but not out of the ordinary. Nominally American companies are accepting the Chinese Communist Party’s parameters for accepted speech, even for posts in English on U.S. platforms. (Instagram is banned in China.) They apologize when they fall short of that standard and attempt to cover their tracks afterward, only issuing the most groveling version of their statements in Chinese, opting for more anodyne language in English.

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