After Widespread Protests, Chinese Social Media Platform Weibo Backtracks on Gay Censorship
Last Friday we reported that Sina Weibo — China’s largest social media platform, with over 392 million monthly active users, often compared to Twitter — announced that over the next three months it would censor videos, cartoons and images related to pornography, violence and homosexuality in order to follow recent government “cybersecurity” laws forbidding “unsafe or offensive” online content. But after a weekend full of Weibo protests and calls for people to leave the site and sell their stock shares, Weibo has backed off that plan.
Shortly after Weibo’s Friday announcement, hashtags like “#IAmGay,” “#IAmIllegal,” “#IAmGayNotAPervert” and “#HelloSinaScumIAmGay” went viral on the site along with pictures of people kissing same-sex partners or proclaiming their support for LGBTQ causes with rainbow emojis. Weibo reportedly began censoring #IAmGay, but struggled to censor other pro-gay content.
Activists opposing Weibo’s “clean up” joined an already planned Saturday Pride march in Nanjing, and, according to the Japan Times, a “large online community of ‘funu‘ (‘deviant girls’), heterosexual women who are avid fans of male gay romances and share comics or stories, was particularly critical.”
Some funu alleged that some of the 54,000 content deletions Weibo had made by the time of its Friday announcement had included non-pornographic comic book images. Weibo also reportedly deleted a popular pro-LGBTQ group called The Gay Voice from its network.
According to Reuters, the Beijing-based LGBTQ advocacy group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays China (PFLAG China) released a statement on Sunday asking the social media platform’s shareholders to “vote with their feet” and punish Weibo’s “evil” acts by selling their shares in the social media company. Two lawyers who attended a PFLAG weekend meeting also suggested that people sue Weibo for their move.
By Monday morning, Weibo issued a short statement that read, “This time, the cleanup of anime and games won’t target gay content. It is mainly [meant] to clean up content related to pornography, violence and gore. Thank you for your discussions and suggestions.”
While this is a positive development, President Xi Jinping’s restrictive online censorship laws still lump homosexuality in with other “abnormal sexual relationships,” including incest and abusive relationships, ensuring that other websites may face persecution for allowing depiction and discussion of gay relationships, even in mild forms.