On Saturday, Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, banned homosexual content in response to President Xi Jinping’s extension of internet censorship. The ban comes as part of a 3-month long “clean-up campaign,” in which Weibo will remove content deemed “illegal” under new restrictions imposed by the microblogging site. Many users protested the decision, responding with a show of support and solidarity, sharing the hashtag “#IAmGay” and posting images of rainbows and photos of themselves. Homosexuality has been decriminalized in China since 1997 and was removed from a state list of mental disorders in 2001.
Weibo, a microblogging site which hosts 400 million active monthly users, has purportedly enacted the campaign in order to “create a clear and harmonious community environment.” The ban, which also encompasses violent and sexually suggestive material, has occurred as part of the government’s crackdown on online content perceived as conflicting with the “core values” of socialism. Many are speculating how the decision to censor homosexuality will detrimentally affect the gay community. Chen Du, a gay Chinese activist speaking to the New York Times, stated that “People who are ready to come out are going to be pushed back to where they used to be, faced with pressure and helplessness.”
The decision to ban homosexual content on one of China’s primary social media platforms sends an extremely dangerous and problematic message to China’s LGBT community. It’s a message of exclusion and ostracism, directed towards a community which already experiences discrimination. The “I Am Gay” hashtag was removed by Weibo, after reportedly being viewed 130 million times, and many of the related comments were deleted by the site. Individuals within the Chinese LGBT community, especially vulnerable youths, should not be made to feel that their identity somehow involves illegality. By removing the posts and comments made, Weibo also silenced the voices standing together, censoring a positive display of unity and togetherness. The Chinese government cannot achieve a cohesive society by simply abolishing the expression of ideas. The international community must continue to pressure the government regarding China’s human rights record.
Globally China is recognized as having the most comprehensive internet regulation and control mechanism. Content is not only blocked from being published online, but the state has the ability to closely monitor the online presence of individuals. Under President Xi Jinping, the Great Firewall of China is being expanded. Online current affairs websites are now required to be monitored by a government-approved editorial staff to ensure that material published conforms to prescribed guidelines. Experts have stated that the new limitations introduced are some of the strictest to date and appear to be more likely to continue to grow than to decline.
As one Weibo commentator observed, “There can be no homosexuality under socialism? It is unbelievable that China progresses economically and militarily but returns to the feudal era in terms of ideas.” This censorship on behalf of Weibo is disgraceful and must be reversed. No one within the LGBT community should feel bothered on the basis of their sexuality. It is crucial that support services are available to those experiencing vulnerability as a result of Weibo’s decision.
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