Updated: Weibo’s purge of gay-themed content sparks online outrage

Updated 14:17 am 16 April 2018: Weibo has issued a second statement today to exclude gay-themed contents from the three-month purge. Now the “Cleaning Up” campaign only targets vulgar and violent contents.

Chinese popular social networking platform Weibo announced that they would remove gay-themed contents from its platform (in Chinese), prompting a storm of online protests.

A search on Weibo for “I am gay” shows a popular post

To comply with China’s new cybersecurity law, the Twitter-like micro-blogging service said that they will launch a three-month “clean-up” campaign to filter comics, games, and related short videos and picture/text posts that involve pornography, violence or homosexuality. The statement added that the crackdown covers all contents related to “gay” and “danmei (耽美), China’s version of what is often called “slash” fiction. Weibo claims that it has removed over 56,000 posts and closed over a hundred accounts involving “illegal” content.

The move sparked online outcry where Weibo users protest with the hashtag “I am gay”, which was used 170,000 times before Weibo ultimately banned it. In addition to gay people, the country’s liberals who were enraged by the crackdown also made their voices heard.

Chinese society, especially the online space, is adopting a more open attitude towards gay culture, resulting in a vibrant LGBT app scene to serve estimated tens of millions of people in the LGBT community in China. Top players in the field include Blued, LESDO, Ahola, and more.

But the tolerance still have to find its way to the government level. Gay love and LGBT culture have always been sensitive issues and constant censorship topics in the state’s online crackdown.  As recent as 2016, the state issued a ban to portray homosexual relationships on television dramas and web series (in Chinese).

The collision comes at the height of China’s online crackdown that affected a range of popular apps such as new aggregating service Toutiao and short video hubs Douyin and Kuaishou.