by Becky Davis
China’s popular Weibo microblogging platform on Monday reversed a decision to block “homosexual” content, in an unusual concession to a storm of online protest at the weekend.
Sina Weibo said in a statement Friday it had begun a three-month-long “clean-up campaign” to remove “illegal” content, including “manga and videos with pornographic implications, promoting violence or (related to) homosexuality”.
But the Twitter-like platform backtracked on Monday, stating on its administrators’ official account: “This clean-up of games and manga is no longer directed at homosexual content, but is primarily to clean up pornographic and bloody, violent content.”
It also thanked the public for “discussions and suggestions”.
Weibo’s decision on gay content had prompted a tide of protest from outraged users who rallied behind the hashtag “#IamGay”, viewed some 240 million times before it was banned by the platform on Saturday.
Even the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily jumped into the discussion, posting an essay promoting LGBT acceptance to its official Weibo account on Saturday. The posting was viewed nearly 6.5 million times.
“Everyone is unique and sexuality is just one side of us that differs, just like skin colour, height and weight,” the essay said.
But it added that “even homosexual people are regular citizens” whose affiliated content was not above being subjected to censorship laws against porn and violence.
Monday’s reversal was met with an outpouring of support.
“I support Sina in clearing out pornographic content, but it definitely must not do so as before and target homosexuality — that kind of discrimination is wrong,” wrote one user.
“Through everyone’s unrelenting efforts, we finally got a basic right — how rare!” wrote another.
A third said: “Although I still don’t like you, I thank you.”
Gay Voices, which has since 2009 been one of Weibo’s major LGBT accounts with some 230,000 followers, had on Friday declared it would be forced to indefinitely suspend its postings.
On Monday it was back online and thanking supporters, saying: “Only by speaking up can we affect change.”
Weibo’s purge was the latest move in a crackdown by the ruling Communist Party to clear the Chinese internet of any content deviating from its “core values of socialism”, while stifling criticism of social norms and established policies.
The platform — which has some 400 million active monthly users — said in its original Friday statement that it was merely implementing China’s new cybersecurity law and had already removed some 56,240 items.
‘A step further’
Much of the homosexual content on Weibo is fuelled not by LGBT activists, who are quite low-profile, but by the large online community of “funu” (“rotten girls”) — heterosexual women who are avid fans of male gay romances and share comics or stories, frequently erotic.
The affair has highlighted the cultural gap between younger Chinese more open to LGBT issues and “China’s older generation — mostly very conservative 40-year-old men — who are now the main force of our society because they control the resources,” Xiao Tie, director of the Beijing LGBT Center, told AFP, using a nickname.
Xiao Tie said the homosexuality ban was a result of over-cautiousness in the absence of specific information from authorities on what kind of content should be censored.
“Sina Weibo doesn’t want to make trouble, so they went a step further with their censorship before the government even asked for it,” she said.
China has a mixed track record with gay themes in cultural products.
Last year it banned gay content from all online streaming platforms
Last month it pulled the Oscar-winning film “Call Me by Your Name” from the ongoing Beijing International Film Festival.
But after a two-year delay, Chinese theatres on Friday finally released “Seek McCartney”, a film about a secret homosexual romance between Chinese and French lovers that has been hailed as the country’s first gay movie.