Why Mark Zuckerberg's Latest Photo Is Causing Controversy

March 18th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

A photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg jogging at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China — part of his "A Year of Running" campaign — became a subject of controversy on Thursday for reasons that might not be totally apparent at first glance. What you might not notice about the photo, as users in the post's comment section quickly pointed out, is the city's smog problem.

It's great to be back in Beijing! I kicked off my visit with a run through Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City and...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, March 17, 2016

Smog levels in Beijing reached unprecedented levels in December, prompting officials to issue the capitol's first-ever "red alert" for hazardous air quality. The government encouraged residents to stay indoors, closed schools, and imposed driving restrictions. The problem hasn't gone away, as some felt Zuckerberg's post implied.

"The air pollution in Beijing is very serious," one user wrote. "Why didn't you wear a mask when you was running. I sincerely hope you will not get any respiratory diseases."


Many urged Zuckerberg to wear a mask if he was going to run in the city, a precautionary measure that many residents take to avoid developing respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis. A 2015 study published in PLOS ONE found that air pollution accounted for about 4,000 deaths in China every day. In Beijing, breathing the air caused lung damage that was equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.



Others questioned whether the photo was a political stunt meant to win the favor of Chinese leaders, whom Zuckerberg has routinely engaged in efforts to get the country's ban on Facebook lifted, The Guardian reports.


"Glad to see they fixed the smog issues in Beijing," another user commented wrote. "Running in their filthy air won't convince their government to allow Facebook in China, Mark."



While the purpose of Facebook's "A Year of Running" campaign is to promote exercise and healthy living, it at least appears to have highlighted another public health issue, albeit inadvertently.

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