Sina Reverses Ban on Gay Content After Protest

On April 13, announced a three-month ban on pornographic, violent, and homosexual content, as part of an effort to “create a bright and harmonious community environment.” Manya Koetse at What’s on Weibo reported on the ban:

In the notice, that received near to 20,000 comments and over 96,000 shares shortly after it was posted (see screenshot), the official Sina Weibo account writes that, in order to “fulfill the corporate responsibility,” the platform will adhere to Internet Security Laws in strictly overseeing cartoons, games, videos, and other related content published on Weibo for a 3-month-period.

The Weibo Community Notice says its “clean-up” mainly targets content related to cartoons, images, and short videos relating to pornography, “bloody violence”, and homosexuality. Violent content, such as that of the Grand Theft Auto game, will also not be allowed to appear on the social media platform. According to the account, a total of 56,243 related violations were already “cleared” at the time they published the notice. [Source]

Immediately after the announcement was made public, internet users spoke out against the inclusion of homosexual content in the ban and showed public solidarity with the LGBT community. Steven Jiang of CNN reports:

“The Gay Voice,” a popular Weibo page with a focus on gay rights and artwork around the world, announced to its more than 230,000 followers Saturday that it would stop updating its page due to “event of force majeure” — a veiled reference to Friday’s statement.

The short notice, which was reposted thousands of times, has received an outpouring of public support — with countless users resurrecting an old topic “I am gay” that the page started seven years ago and turning it into a new viral hashtag.

“I feel totally surprised and touched,” Hua Zile, founder of the Weibo page as well as the NGO that bears the same time, told CNN on Monday.

“Seven years ago, not that many people were willing to make their voices heard this way,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this happen now, with everyone — straight or gay, celebrities or ordinary people — using the hashtag and joining in.” [Source]

CDT Chinese has collected some online responses to the post by Gay Voices and Weibo’s content ban, many of which use the hashtag #我是同性恋 (#IAmGay) to show solidarity with their gay compatriots. One commenter wrote, “The country may be taking another detour, but for many people, this is their life.”

Lily Kuo at the Guardian has more on the public response:

Many quoted China’s constitution and laws about the protection of minorities. One internet user referred to article 38 of China’s constitution which maintains that the “personal dignity” of Chinese citizens is “inviolable” and that insult directed against citizens is prohibited.

Others pointed out homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997 and in 2001 removed from the government’s list of mental disorders. [Source]

Meghan Rajagopalan and William Yang of BuzzFeed report:

Over the weekend, people used hashtags like #IAmGay and #IHaveGayFriends, and many shared selfies and personal stories.

“My son and I love our country. No matter where we go, we always proudly tell people that we are from China,” wrote a Weibo user in Shanghai who said her son was gay in a widely shared post.

“But today when I saw the first point in Weibo’s announcement that they lumped in LGBTQ content with pornographic and violent content, I felt the violence of Weibo’s discrimination against minority groups when it plays the role of a media outlet in a strong country like China.”

In the southwestern province of Sichuan, a radio host posted a viral video of activists offering free hugs on a busy street while wearing rainbow-printed eye masks. [Source]

In a surprise turnaround, Sina responded to the outpouring of protest by reversing the ban and saying homosexual content would not be included. From Javier C. Hernández and Zoe Mou of The New York Times:

On Monday, Weibo said in a post that it would scale back its “cleanup” effort and focus on “pornographic, violent and bloody content” instead of gay material. In a nod to the intense backlash, it thanked internet users for their “discussion and suggestions.”

The company did not say whether it would continue to delete texts, photos and videos with gay themes, which were also listed as targets in the original announcement. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.

Internet users welcomed the change on Monday. Still, some said the company owed gays an apology.

“It is totally insincere,” Bai Fei, a feminist activist in Shanghai, said of the announcement. “They have already harmed us. I want them to stand up and make a public apology.” [Source]

What’s on Weibo also reported on the aftermath of the ban:

The announcement and its aftermath show many similarities with a Weibo campaign of 2017, in which the platform said it would ban “displays of homosexuality” in online videos. Then, an official account of the Communist Youth League replied that “being gay is no disorder.”

Although comments on Friday’s Sina Weibo announcement have been locked for viewing, the responses to the new announcement on Monday were open to see.

Within three hours after Weibo’s Administration posted the rectification, it had been forwarded more than 33,000 times and received over 7500 comments. “I hope you’ll never announce discriminatory guidelines again,” some netizens said. [Source]

See also a report in Foreign Policy by Joanna Chiu last year in which she looked at the ways Chinese tech and advertising firms are trying to court the gay market.