On Friday, China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, banned all content containing homosexuality from its platform. But after a weekend full of online protests, Weibo has reversed its decision, clarifying that it’s not targeting gay content anymore.
Weibo wrote in a post on Monday, “This time, the cleanup of anime and games won’t target gay content. It is mainly [meant] to clean up content related to pornography, violence, and gore. Thank you for your discussions and suggestions,” as translated by WhatsonWeibo.
The original announcement from Weibo on Friday said the platform was launching a clean-up campaign for the next three months and would remove all pornographic, violent, or homosexual photos, videos, text posts, and cartoons. Weibo said the move came because it needed to comply with China’s 2017 cybersecurity rule for stricter data surveillance. It said it had already removed over 50,000 pieces of content by Friday.
It wasn’t clear whether Weibo’s decision to ban homosexual content was its own or whether it was simply complying with government requests. Other platforms have similarly had to clean up, including the news app Jinri Toutiao that’s been momentarily paused while the company’s owners delete vulgar content off the platform, and parody app Neihan Duanzi, which was shut down completely.
Weibo’s announcement on Friday, however, specifically targeted gay content, although banning such content is something China has seen before. Last summer, a government-affiliated group called China Netcasting Services Association began requiring two auditors for each piece of audiovisual content online to check if sites were adhering to “core socialist values,” which included a rejection of homosexual content. Last month, the Beijing International Film Festival dropped Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name, which is about a gay summer romance that takes place in Italy in the 1980s.
What’s unique in this instance of censorship is that online protests seem to have made an impact on Weibo’s policies. Users shared and commented hundreds of thousands of times in protest of the announcement, with the hashtag (translated from Mandarin) #IAmGay or #ScumbagSinaHelloIAmGay.
There were hints of the government’s official stance on the issue, which seemed to lean toward public opinion. The Communist Youth League responded to Weibo’s initial ban saying, “Being gay is no disorder.” State-run media outlet, People’s Daily, wrote that tolerance should be shown toward gay people but vulgar content should be removed regardless of people’s sexual orientations, as spotted by South China Morning Post.
On Monday, protesters were victorious when Weibo apologized. The Weibo account @LGBT noted it was a step forward in showing “respect for people who are different.”
Still, there are limits to what online protests can do. A similar outburst of social media activity in February over Chinese president Xi Jinping’s removal of term limits did not have any impact at all, and regulators responded with additional censorsing.
We’ve reached out to Weibo for comment.