Web goes straight

Chi­nese gay apps stop short of fight­ing ho­mo­sex­ual ban on so­cial me­dia

Global Times - - Front Page - By Zhang Yiqian

∙ Af­ter Sina Weibo an­nounced it would re­move gay-themed con­tent dur­ing its most re­cent pu­rifi­ca­tion cam­paign, China’s LGBT com­mu­nity united to ex­ert pres­sure on the pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia plat­form

∙ The gov­ern­ment has long been clean­ing up the in­ter­net, in­clud­ing en­ter­tain­ment deemed against so­cial­ist val­ues, though ho­mo­sex­ual con­tent of­ten comes un­der fire first

An of­fi­cial cam­paign to re­move gay-themed con­tent from China’s Twit­ter-like mi­croblog, Sina Weibo, ended as abruptly as it be­gan, last­ing only 66 hours.

Last Fri­day, Weibo, which has some 400 mil­lion users, put up an of­fi­cial no­tice say­ing it would be­gin a three­month in­spec­tion pe­riod to “pu­rify” its on­line en­vi­ron­ment. The cam­paign pri­mar­ily tar­geted porno­graphic, vi­o­lent and ho­mo­sex­ual-re­lated pic­tures, ar­ti­cles and videos.

The an­nounce­ment aroused anger among Chi­nese LGBT groups, who led a swift coun­ter­strike by post­ing pho­tos and com­ments on Weibo with the hash­tag IAm­Gay.

Re­lated con­tent us­ing the hash­tag has been viewed over 600 mil­lion times.

Un­der such pres­sure, Weibo re­versed its de­ci­sion on Mon­day, say­ing the cleanup cam­paign does not in­clude ho­mo­sex­ual con­tent. The LGBT com­mu­nity re­gards this as a rare vic­tory.

Over-an­a­lyzed poli­cies

Af­ter Weibo first put up the of­fi­cial no­tice, sev­eral manga (Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion) artists and fans in China im­me­di­ately an­nounced their re­treat from the plat­form.

One artist with 228,598 fol­low­ers who has been draw­ing fan art of pop­u­lar Ja­panese anime Cool­headed Hoozuki, said that, for se­cu­rity pur­poses, she would delete some of her art and con­tent from Weibo.

“It ap­pears that I can­not up­date more manga on Weibo,” she wrote. “I will put them on Lofter in­stead, just search for my name. But if my ac­count can make it through the three-month pe­riod, then we can all restart.”

“I don’t un­der­stand, it’s just en­ter­tain­ment. What’s wrong with ho­mo­sex­ual con­tent? It’s just as le­git­i­mate as het­ero­sex­ual love sto­ries,” one reader told the Global Times, ex­plain­ing that there is a large au­di­ence for “slash” con­tent (ro­man­tic re­la­tions be­tween two male pro­tag­o­nists), mostly het­ero­sex­ual women.

Xiaotie, di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing LGBT Cen­ter, im­me­di­ately cre­ated a WeChat group to dis­cuss the crack­down on Weibo. The group is com­prised of di­rec­tors of mul­ti­ple LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions, lawyers and sup­port­ers both in and out­side of China. They each ex­pressed dis­be­lief and jumped into heated dis­cus­sions about what could be done.

It was then that Xiaotie de­cided they would “coun­ter­act” Weibo’s an­nounce­ment via a va­ri­ety of meth­ods, in­clud­ing a do­mes­tic law­suit, in­flu­enc­ing Sina Weibo’s stock mar­ket price and col­lect­ing LGBT sto­ries to send to Weibo di­rec­tors to show how large their com­mu­nity re­ally is.

She told the Global Times that she be­lieves Weibo “over an­a­lyzed” China’s gov­ern­men­tal di­rec­tives, as the gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial poli­cies were not specif­i­cally tar­geted at LGBT con­tent. “We will de­mand that Sina Weibo tell us what pol­icy specif­i­cally di­rected them to do so,” she said.

In their coun­ter­strike against Weibo, China’s LGBT com­mu­nity re­ceived un­ex­pected but wel­come sup­port from an of­fi­cial voice. Last Satur­day, the WeChat ac­count of Peo­ple’s Daily com­men­tary sec­tion posted an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Dif­fer­ent fire­works can also blos­som,” ex­plain­ing that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is not a dis­ease.

The widely shared ar­ti­cle in­cluded a sen­tence ex­plain­ing that “list­ing LGBT con­tent with porno­graphic or vi­o­lent con­tent, or re­gard­ing LGBT as ab­nor­mal re­la­tions such as sex­ual ha­rass­ment or sex­ual vi­o­lence, can trig­ger pub­lic con­cerns.”

None­the­less, the post was crit­i­cized by some for stress­ing that the LGBT com­mu­nity must also “take some re­spon­si­bil­ity”; de­trac­tors re­garded this as “care­fully sug­ar­coated com­men­tary” that ac­tu­ally sides with Weibo.

Hua Zile, the founder of Voice of Gay mag­a­zine, dis­agrees, telling Q Daily, an on­line mag­a­zine cre­ated by the for­mer chief edi­tor of Chi­nese Busi­ness News Weekly, that the edi­tor of the WeChat ac­count of Peo­ple’s Daily com­men­tary sec­tion had reached out to him to see what can be done about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

Ab­nor­mal and un­healthy

Ah Qiang, di­rec­tor of Guangzhoubased NGO Par­ents and Friends of Les­bians and Gays (PFLAG), told the Global Times that he does not de­spise Weibo for mak­ing such harsh de­ci­sions against China’s LGBT com­mu­nity. In­stead, he is sym­pa­thetic and un­der­stand­ing. “It’s not only these plat­forms that have diffi-

In the past, when­ever Chi­nese ho­mo­sex­u­als felt op­pressed, most would choose to suf­fer the blow, which is why Ah Qiang is grate­ful and proud of China’s LGBT for speak­ing out against Weibo and fight­ing a dif­fi­cult bat­tle against so­cial me­dia cen­sor­ship this time.

cul­ties. Com­pa­nies within the LGBT com­mu­nity have been shaky as well,” Ah Qiang said. “If you are look­ing at gay apps such as Blued or Aloha, or les­bian so­cial apps, they are hav­ing a hard

enough time even with­out speak­ing up.” On Weibo, Blued’s of­fi­cial ac­count only for­warded Peo­ple’s Daily’s com­men­tary and a pre­vi­ous TED talk by its founder Geng Le. Geng only sent out a post last Sun­day sug­gest­ing Weibo change its word­ing. Nei­ther im­me­di­ately spoke up af­ter the in­ci­dent. Some in the com­mu­nity blamed them for not shoul­der­ing their re­spon­si­bil­ity. Blued re­cently se­cured a D-round of fi­nanc­ing worth $1 bil­lion in Fe­bru­ary. Geng met with Chi­nese Premier Li Ke­qiang in 2012 on World AIDS Day and has also re­ceived me­dia cov­er­age in re­cent years, many from State me­dia, lead­ing some to be­lieve he will not voice his opin­ion as oth­ers in the com­mu­nity have due to his po­si­tion. Ah Qiang feels that Weibo has rel­a­tively been open and LGBT-friendly in the past. This time, when they are fac­ing pres­sure, they fi­nally de­cided to take on the LGBT com­mu­nity, he said. Weibo’s self­cleans­ing came against the back­drop of a re­cent large-scale gov­ern­ment cleanup cam­paign of on­line user­gen­er­ated con­tent, such as short videos and mi­croblogs. Just last week, joke app Nei­han Duanzi, which be­longs to China’s tech giant Jinri Toutiao, was re­moved from on­line stores. Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, the app con­tained “vul­gar con­tent and in­cor­rect val­ues.” Such tech com­pa­nies in turn an­nounced their own cam­paigns to clean up con­tent and en­force stricter self-cen­sor­ship. Last Wed­nes­day, Jinri Toutiao an­nounced it would in­crease their con­tent mod­er­a­tors from 6,000 to 10,000. CEO Zhang Yim­ing apol­o­gized in a pub­lic let­ter posted on Weibo to reg­u­la­tors, col­leagues and users for al­low­ing the app to “lose its way.” The com­pany’s pop­u­lar video app, Douyin, tem­porar­ily blocked its com­ment and livestream­ing func­tions and an­nounced it would im­ple­ment a new “anti-ad­dic­tion” sys­tem.

In pre­vi­ous cleanups, LGBT top­ics were al­ways deemed “sen­si­tive” and among the first to be reg­u­lated. Last June, the China Net­cast­ing Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion (an or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der SAPPRFT with 604 mem­bers that in­clude China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion and the Xin­hua News Agency) re­leased au­dit­ing cri­te­ria for on­line pro­grams.

Their cri­te­ria banned nine cat­e­gories of con­tent deemed to be ob­scene or vul­gar, in­clud­ing “ab­nor­mal” sex­ual re­la­tions such as in­cest, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and sex­ual abuse, “un­healthy” views on mar­riage such as ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs, sex­ual free­dom and wife swap­ping, as well as pros­ti­tu­tion, rape, mas­tur­ba­tion or any­thing that is “highly sex­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing.” Even last month, news broke out that

Call Me by Your Name, an Ital­ian film that fea­tures a ho­mo­sex­ual cou­ple, was qui­etly re­moved from be­ing screened at the Bei­jing Film Fes­ti­val, which be­gan last Sun­day. It is sus­pected that pres­sure was ex­erted on the or­ga­niz­ers, though there have been no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tions.

LGBT NGOs such as PFLAG are also be­ing closely watched by au­thor­i­ties. Ah Qiang said he “goes to tea” with au­thor­i­ties at least once ev­ery few months. Start­ing this year, all PFLAG public­ity and events be­gan to carry the dis­claimer that they “pro­mote fam­ily har­mony and parental love, pro­mote healthy growth of our next gen­er­a­tion and pro­vide for our el­derly.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ah Qiang, in the past, when­ever Chi­nese ho­mo­sex­u­als felt op­pressed, most would choose to suf­fer the blow. Which is why he is grate­ful and proud of China’s LGBT for speak­ing out against Weibo and fight­ing a dif­fi­cult bat­tle against so­cial me­dia cen­sor­ship. None­the­less, he feels the com­mu­nity should main­tain a level head.

“The road for LGBT equal­ity is still long, so we shouldn’t be overly ex­cited or rad­i­cal,” he said.

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