In the wake of the widespread crackdown on LGBT Internet content in China, Weibo, one of the country’s most popular sites, is facing off with a huge amount of dissent. In late last June, the microblogging website, used by over 30 percent of Internet users in China, said that it would be working to “block unapproved video content and work more closely with state media to promote ‘mainstream’ ideas”.
The strict regulations have come about under President Xi Jinping, attempting to enforce the Communist party’s role in the country, moving towards strict, ultra conservative policy that bans LGBT and other content from the Internet. The regulations ban any portrayal of “abnormal” relations between two people of the same sex, even those that are innocuous and non-sexual. Many users have voiced their outrage online, posting, “aren't homosexuals normal? Why do you push them to a corner?”
The regulations came into force at the start of July, and Weibo has seen a major backlash. The hashtag “Online Content Review Discriminating Gays” was viewed by millions and generated thousands of comments. LGBT content isn’t the only thing banned on websites, though; there are 84 kinds of material that were banned from online video by Chinese censors, including prostitution, drug addiction, extramarital affairs, and what authorities deem to be "unhealthy" views of the family, relationships and money. The guidance believes that all online content should “help realise the China dream of a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Under the regulations, at least two to three “auditors” will check online content to make sure it sticks to the “advanced culture of socialism.”, taking down anything that doesn’t adhere to “correct political and aesthetic standards”.
Chinese LGBT magazine Gay Voice said of the regulations: “The false information in these regulations has already caused harm to the Chinese LGBT community, who are already subjected to prejudice and discrimination.”
Last year Beijing issued another set of rules – some of which banned the portrayal of homosexuality on television. The guidelines stated that “no television drama shall show abnormal sexual relationships and behaviours, such as incest, same-sex relationships, sexual perversion, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual violence, and so on.” These all form efforts to crack down on “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content”; efforts which have also seen gay Chinese dating apps – like Rela, a lesbian dating site used by 5 million people – shut down across the country.
The LGBT community in China is frustrated, as their country appears to be hurtling backwards in terms of acceptance. Homosexuality is not illegal in China, and was removed from an official list of mental disorders as late as 2001. The high court in Taiwan recently ordered its Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage.
Tim Hildebrandt, an assistant professor of social policy and development at the London School of Economics, told the BBC that the recent censorship is surprising. He said: “unlike a lot of places with institutionalised religion, it's not a place that has ever viewed homosexuality as inherently sinful. It's been viewed over time as an oddity, but not an inherent threat to society. The only threat it served was as one of nonconformity to a perfect model of the family.” He added that these “guidelines” are particularly worrisome, as “some might assume this is just about pornography. This is not really the case. It's any portrayal of homosexuality in online videos. As to what that means for gay people in China, essentially the Internet is one of the few safe spaces to meet others within the community.”
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