China’s Weibo reverses ban on gay content after outcry

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.

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

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Free speech or illegal content?

Whether hate speech, propaganda or activism, governments across the globe have upped efforts to curb content deemed illegal from circulating on social networks. From drawn-out court cases to blanket bans, DW examines how some countries try to stop the circulation of illicit content while others attempt to regulate social media.

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Social media law

After a public debate in Germany, a new law on social media came into effect in October. The legislation imposes heavy fines on social media companies, such as Facebook, for failing to take down posts containing hate speech. Facebook and other social media companies have complained about the law, saying that harsh rules might lead to unnecessary censorship.

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Right to be forgotten

In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that European citizens had the right to request search engines, such Google and Bing, remove "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive" search results linked to their name. Although Google has complied with the ruling, it has done so reluctantly, warning that it could make the internet as "free as the world's least free place."

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Blanket ban

In May 2017, Ukraine imposed sanctions on Russian social media platforms and web services. The blanket ban affected millions of Ukrainian citizens, many of whom were anxious about their data. The move prompted young Ukrainians to protest on the streets, calling for the government to reinstate access to platforms that included VKontakte (VK), Russia's largest social network.

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Safe Harbor

In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled that Safe Harbor, a 15-year-old pact between the US and EU that allowed the transfer of personal data without prior approval, was effectively invalid. Austrian law student Max Schrems launched the legal proceedings against Facebook in response to revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden.

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In China, the use of social media is highly regulated by the government. Beijing has effectively blocked access to thousands of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Instead, China offers its citizens access to local social media platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, which boast hundreds of millions of monthly users.

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Twitter bans Russia-linked accounts

Many politicians and media outlets blame Russia's influence for Donald Trump's election victory in 2016. Moscow reportedly used Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram to shape public opinion on key issues. In October 2017, Twitter suspended over 2,750 accounts due to alleged Russian propaganda. The platform also banned ads from RT (formerly Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency.

Digital World

Facebook announces propaganda-linked tool

With social media under pressure for allowing alleged Russian meddling, Facebook announced a new project to combat such efforts in November 2017. The upcoming page will give users a chance to check if they "liked" or followed an alleged propaganda account on Facebook or Instagram. Meanwhile, Facebook has come under fire for not protecting user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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

Sina Weibo China Internet

Shares in Chinese social media Weibo plunged after its clampdown on gay content

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."

Related Subjects

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

Taiwan 14. jährliche LGBT Pride Parade

Many of the 82,000 participants in Taiwan's Pride March traveled from China

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


Daphne & Kenny: 'Once the law passes, we have further protection'

Daphne and Kenny are getting married at the end of the year. Five months after Kenny went on her knees to propose to Daphne at a rally of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples on Taipei's largest boulevard, both are trying on wedding outfits. Until now, same-sex couples in some Taiwanese jurisdictions were able to register as partners…


Daniel Cho and Chin Tsai: 'we will be the first in line'

…although the rights available to them were often limited compared to married heterosexual couples. This couple is hopeful: "Daniel relocated to New York for his job, but since the Taiwanese government doesn't recognize our relationship, I can’t apply for a spousal visa to go with him. If the law passes, we will be the first in line to the registry of marriages."


Hare Lin & Cho Chia-lin: 'Taiwan can be changed'

Hare Lin, who works as a publisher and Cho Chia-lin, a writer, believe in an open minded world: "When I first held the gay parade in 2003, there were only around a thousand people, but a few years later, the march was attended by 50 to 60 thousand," Lin says. "Also there are gay artists, politicians, council members, and even a presidential candidate. I believe this world can be changed."


Gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei: 'will continue our efforts'

Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen, whose cabinet includes the island's first transgender minister, said on Twitter: "Resolving differences is a start - more dialogue and understanding are needed." Gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei (pictured above) approves: "If Taiwan refuses to improve, we will continue our efforts and make a rainbow country. Even a revolution."


Wang Yi & Meng Yu-mei: ' Taiwan is a democratic country'

Taiwan is famed for an annual gay pride parade that showcases the vibrancy of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Artist Wang Yi says: "You think we want to go through all of this hardship? We have difficult relationships with our parents. But I felt the discussion of same-sex marriage is what a free country should do under the rule of law. The discussion is fair."


Huang Chen-ting & Lin Chi-xuan: 'fighting for fair treatment'

Huang Chen-ting and Lin Chi-xuan fool around: "We are the same as heterosexuals. Discrimination has taken many forms, from the skin color of black slaves in the past, to sexual orientation at the moment, but all of us are human beings. We all fight for fair treatment," Chi-xuan says. Recent polls showed a majority of the Taiwanese population supports same-sex marriage.


Leber Li and Amely Chen: 'love between us is strong'

Leber Li drives with Amely Chen and their son Mork, in Yilan. "It was our dream to have children. We have a child through artificial insemination, but only one of us can be registered to be the mother. This is so unfair. The baby has the love of two mothers. It does not matter how a family is formed as long as there is love," Chen says.


Huang Zi-ning and Kang Xin: 'We are the next generation'

Students Huang Zi-ning and Kang Xin pose for a selfie in Taoyuan. "Anti same-sex marriage groups say they are against us because they want to protect the next generation. But I am the next generation. Why do they listen to those who are about to die instead of our voices? We need to speak out," says Zi-ning.

kw/msh (AP, dpa)

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