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Digital World

China’s Weibo reverses ban on gay content after outcry

April 16, 2018

Chinese Twitter-equivalent Weibo has reversed a clampdown on gay content. Outraged LGBT users accused Weibo of lumping homosexuality with violence and pornography in its attempt to target vulgar material.

Gay marriage supporters from Shaghai
Image: DW/Chung-Lan Cheng

Sina Weibo announced on Monday its "clean-up campaign" would no longer target gay material, just days after the popular microblogging site had said it would remove pornographic, violent or gay content.

Weibo's content ban is the latest attempt by the Chinese government to purge the internet of content it alleges deviates from socialism's "core values."

Read more: Hello, Big Brother: How China controls its citizens through social media

Uprising of outrage

  • Weibo’s clampdown on gay content provoked an angry response from it users.
  • Many of Weibo's 340 million users rallied under the hashtags "I am gay" and "I am gay not a pervert."
  • The company then apparently banned the hashtags and related content.
  • Weibo's Nasdaq shares plunged on Friday following the move.

Read more: China censors search reuslts for Kim Jong Un's 'Fatty' nickname

A mobile phone user looks at the icon of the app of Weibo. Shares in Chinese social media Weibo plunged following its clampdown on gay content.
Shares in Chinese social media Weibo plunged after its clampdown on gay contentImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Da Qing

Rainbow marathon

A Weibo company statement issued on Monday read: "This clean-up of anime and games will no longer target gay content. It is mainly to clean up content related to pornography and violence. Thank you for your discussions and suggestions."

Many Weibo users shared their experiences as a gay person or a parent of one after the clampdown. Some 20,000 people marched in a "Rainbow Marathon" in the Chinese city of Nanjing on Sunday to raise awareness of LGBT issues. Although it had been planned months ago, organizers said the clampdown "added significance."

Read more: Marginalized and stigmatized: China's transgender sex workers

LGBT advocates said censorship tends to label all gay content as "dirty," a setback for efforts to carve out a tolerant online space.

Yanhui Peng, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, told DW: "We do not have enough space to express ourselves in daily life … The internet does not only provide a space for people from the LGBT community to express themselves, but also a very important means for the public to understand homosexuality."

Hua Zile, founder of Weibo's "Gay Voices" account, said he was encouraged by the outrage, while China's People's Daily newspaper slammed Weibo for going too far and called homosexuality and bisexuality "normal."

Read more: Chinese gay rights movement sees win in court loss

Many of the 82,000 participants in Taiwan's Pride March traveled from China
Many of the 82,000 participants in Taiwan's Pride March traveled from ChinaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. B. Tongo

Changing attitudes: Although China decriminalized homosexuality two decades ago, a conservative preference for conventional marriage and childbearing creates barriers for gay people.

Government restrictions: The use of social media is highly regulated by Chinese authorities. Beijing has effectively blocked access to thousands of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Chinese users instead have local equivalents, such as Weibo and WeChat, which the government can monitor and which boast hundreds of millions of active users. China's mixed record on gay culture: Last month, China pulled the Oscar-winning film "Call Me by Your Name" from the Beijing International Film Festival. However, Chinese theaters on Friday released "Seek McCartney," that has been hailed as the country's first gay movie.

Read more: Taiwan court first in Asia to approve gay marriage

kw/msh (AP, dpa)

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