Weibo backtracks on gay censorship after outcry in China

Weibo backtracks on gay censorship after outcry in China
Photo released by Jiangsu Tongtian Volunteer Group as more than 20,000 people take part in a "Rainbow Marathon," to raise awareness of LGBT issues in Nanjing yesterday. Photo: Jiangsu Tongtian Volunteer Group via AP.

One of China's top social networking sites has announced it will no longer be censoring content related to gay issues after the plan triggered a public outcry.

Weibo.com was flooded over the weekend with the hashtags "#I'mGay" and "#I'mGayNotaPervert" after the Twitter-like platform said that cartoons and short videos with pornographic, violent or gay subject matter would be investigated over a three-month period.

The microblogging site, which saw its Nasdaq shares fall on Friday, said in its amended post: "This clean-up of games and cartoons will no longer target gay content."

Regulators have been ratcheting up control over Chinese microblogs in recent months, ordering operators like Weibo to set up a mechanism to remove false information after criticising it for allowing prohibited material to spread.

A company spokesman refused to clarify how the platform would treat short videos with gay content.

The investigation will instead "primarily focus on pornographic and violent material," Weibo's statement said. "Thank you everyone for your discussions and suggestions."

The company previously said it was acting in accordance with China's cyber-security laws. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's internet regulator, did not immediately comment.

It was the latest of new measures imposed by President Xi Jinping's government to tighten control over what China's public can see and say online while still trying to reap the economic benefits of internet use.

While homosexuality is not illegal in China and few Chinese have religious objections to it, a traditional, conservative preference for conventional marriage and childbearing creates barriers for LGBT people.

Following Weibo's initial announcement on Friday, more than a million users have viewed hashtags in support of LGBT rights, with many sharing their own experiences as an LGBT person or as a parent of one.

Hua Zile, the founder of "Voice for China LGBT," Weibo's first LGBT-themed account, said he was encouraged by the outrage against the site's censorship plan.

"The response shows that we LGBT people in China are slowly realizing our rights," Mr Hua said. "Gay people who would not have spoken out years ago are now letting their voices be heard."

Hua said a Weibo manager told him to stop posting while the "cleanup" was to take place. He complied, and his announcement that Voice for China LGBT would be going on hiatus was shared nearly 40,000 times.

Now that Weibo has admitted its mistake, Mr Hua said, it should apologise to the LGBT community.

On Sunday, more than 20,000 people marched in a "Rainbow Marathon" in Nanjing to raise awareness of LGBT issues. While the marathon was planned months in advance, its organiser, Lucas Chen, said Weibo's announcement gave it "added significance."

- Press Association

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