Weibo returns after the “gay ban’ outrage

Could Chunmei

Chinese social network Sina Weibo has backtracked from a controversial gay content ban after a massive outcry.

Last Friday, the platform of microblogging said the positions related to homosexuality would be taken down.

It has caused a wave of messages to internet users outraged protest against the decision. Monday, Sina Weibo has said that it would be against the ban.

Often described as China’s answer to Twitter, Sina Weibo is one of the most popular social networks in the country.What happened?

Last Friday, Sina Weibo has made a surprise announcement that it was launching a “cleaning campaign”.

He said that, for the next three months, the platform would remove the contents, including images, videos, text and cartoons that have been linked to pornography, violence, or homosexuality.

“All the better to ensure a clear and harmonious to the society and the environment,” the network said in its statement, adding that it had already wiped more than 50 000 jobs in the meantime.

Sina Weibo has said that it was to run the cleaning due to the strengthening of the legislation related to the internet put in place last year, but it does not explain why it was only now.

The chinese authorities have launched a campaign in recent years to purge the internet of content it deems inappropriate.

By early Monday morning, the most censored search term on Weibo was “homosexuality”, according to the censorship tracker FreeWeibo. How did viewers react?

The weekend, many in the LGBT community took to the network to protest against the decision, using hashtags such as #IAmGay# and #ScumbagSinaHelloIAmGay#.

Some have tried to test the ban and uploaded pictures of themselves with partners or gay friends or relatives.

Among them, the LGBT rights activist Could Chunmei, whose passionate post accompanied with photos of her with her gay son quickly went viral.

Could Chunmei

“My son and I love our country… we are proud to be Chinese!”, she said. “But today I saw the announcement by Sina Weibo…as a news source, it is discrimination and attacking the minorities, and this is violence!”

Another widely-shared post was a video, undated, showing a social experiment where gay volunteers stood in the street, inviting passers-by to kiss. The poster has claimed that the original video has been taken down, and said: “today, I couldn’t help it, but this post again”.

Sina Weibo / Yimoshushu

As of early Monday morning, a number of these posts were still in line, because the censorship appeared to struggle to keep up with the flood.

Then Sina Weibo has made another announcement: he said his own would be “no longer apply to homosexual content”.

“We thank everyone for their discussion and suggestions,” the company added.

Netizens have applauded the recovery. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with being homosexual…we hope that Weibo will not commit such discrimination in the future,” said one user.What is China’s position on LGBT rights?

Homosexuality was decriminalized more than two decades. Conservative attitudes still prevail in many parts of the country, but that has not stopped the LGBT community and activists of the force and of the dynamic presence.

Getty Images

But in recent months, some have begun to fear that this presence was starting to be limited by the conservative forces.

Some saw in the Sina Weibo prohibition in the context of a more general trend of the isolation of the LGBT community, including the passage of last year by an official monitoring of the media considered homosexual content as “pornographic and vulgar”.
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The official Chinese government’s response has always been “neither support nor against” homosexuality, where it “is not the promotion of LGBT rights activist Li Tingting told the BBC in Chinese.

There has been no official reaction from the Chinese government to Sina Weibo’s initial prohibition, nor to the subsequent recovery.

Additional reporting by Gwyneth Ho.