Mark Zuckerberg's smoggy Beijing run ridiculed on Facebook and elsewhere

Mark Zuckerberg (in grey) taking a mask-free jog through Beijing's Tiananmen Square on March 18, 2016.
Mark Zuckerberg (in grey) taking a mask-free jog through Beijing's Tiananmen Square on March 18, 2016.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MARK ZUCKERBERG

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Mr Mark Zuckerberg’s latest attempt to woo China’s Facebook-deprived people may have backfired.  

The Facebook founder posted to his Facebook account a photo of himself jogging on a smoggy day in Beijing, saying it was "great to be back in Beijing".

The photo showed him running with a small group past the iconic image of Mao Zedong that hangs on the entrance to the Forbidden City. Mr Zuckerberg added that he had jogged through Tiananmen and to the Temple of Heaven

Neither he nor anyone in his party wore a mask, despite thick smog - also well-known by tourists to the city.

Levels of PM2.5 - the smallest, most dangerous particulates - were above 300 micrograms per cubic metre in Beijing throughout the morning before the photo was posted, according to data from the US Embassy in the city.

At that level - 12 times the World Health Organisation's recommended maximum - the US Embassy's advice is: "Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion."

Mr Zuckerberg's Facebook posting spawned more than 150,000 interactions.

They spanned those ridiculing his braving the air without a mask in a city where pollution is a daily concern, to outrage over his decision to highlight the sensitive site of a violent 1989 crackdown.  

“The floor you stepped has been covered by blood from students who fought for democracy. But, enjoy your running in China, Mark,” a user going by Cao Yuzhou wrote in one of the top-ranked comments on Mr Zuckerberg’s Facebook page.  

Among the memes making the rounds was a photo-shopped image of Mr Zuckerberg jogging before the famous picture of a line of tanks during the crackdown. Ms Charlene Chian, a spokesman for Facebook, declined to comment in an e-mailed statement. 

Not all the comments were as virulent. "He's the world's most expensive vacuum cleaner," said one user on China micro-blogging site Weibo.

“Mark, don’t you see the air pollution? Stop running outside! Beijing is my home, but I’m not recommending you run outside,” commented a user who went by Tan Peinong.  

The billionaire has appeared several times in China, where the world’s largest social network has been blocked by censors since 2009. The company was said to have rented office space in the capital in 2014 and has sought to build up a business selling ads.

The social media executive was in the capital ahead of an economic forum that gives some of the world's top business and finance leaders the opportunity to hobnob with senior Chinese politicians.

Facebook has been banned in China for years, but is pushing to get back into the country, even as Communist leadership tightens censorship controls.

Mr Zuckerberg, whose wife Priscilla Chan is Chinese-American, been criticised both in China and abroad for his apparently deferential treatment of the country's leaders.

In 2014, he hosted China's top Internet regulator Lu Wei at his Silicon Valley office, telling the man in charge of cracking down on online expression that he was studying the speeches of President Xi Jinping and had purchased copies of a book collecting them for several of his colleagues.

He has also been studying Chinese and delivered a speech in passable Mandarin during a 2015 appearance at Tsinghua University.

Some defended Mr Zuckerberg from the criticism.  “He’s not cowardly sitting by a screen typing useless words but trying to change this world by working very hard,” went another commenter called Hugo Wang.