Weibo has censored hashtags, curtailed discussions, and limited the visibility of a June 9 BBC Eye documentary exposing a ring of men who sell online videos of women being assaulted on public transport. The apparent leader of the ring, Tang Zhuoran (aka “Maomi” or “Uncle Qi”), and several of his associates are Chinese citizens based in Japan; their victims are mainly East Asian women.
The BBC Eye video “Catching a Pervert: Exposing the men selling videos of sexual violence filmed on public transport,” the result of a year-long investigation, is available on YouTube in English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and Japanese. An accompanying article on the BBC website by Zhaoyin Feng, Aliaume Leroy, and Shanshan Chen recounted the investigative team’s unmasking of the leader of the criminal ring:
[T]o our surprise, he revealed Uncle Qi was not just one person.
He managed a team of 15 people, including 10 in China who made videos under the same name. Maomi received 30 to 100 videos from them each month.
The videos were then sold on the three websites which Maomi confirmed he owned.
They had more than 10,000 paying members, mostly Chinese men.
[…] Later, we confronted Maomi with our allegations.
As we approached, he tried to cover his face and walked away. And all of a sudden, he snapped, hitting out at our camera and crew.
The next day, by coincidence, we spotted Maomi at the airport. He was leaving Japan.
Uncle Qi’s Twitter account, where he openly promotes the abuse videos, is still active. [Source]
An initial torrent of attention on Chinese social media was soon followed by platform censorship and state-media misdirection, as described by The China Project’s Zhao Yuanyuan:
[O]n Friday, several social media hashtags spurred by the news were censored. In the following days, discussions about the program were restricted, with some Weibo users claiming that the platform reduced visibility of relevant posts on purpose.
“One post I read concerning the issue had garnered more than 2.2 million likes and was shared over 450,000 times before its creator was forced to set it private. But every woman I know is aware of this matter,” a Weibo user commented.
Meanwhile, the state-owned Global Times weighed in with an editorial titled “To avoid scrutiny from the Chinese authorities, he plans to become a Japanese citizen.” In the article, the author said that when he brought up the matter with Chinese police officers, he was told that “it was difficult to handle” because the website’s owners and servers were based outside of China. [Source]
After the BBC exposé was published, it rapidly became a hot search topic on Weibo. CDT editors tested and found that by approximately 7:00 a.m. Beijing time on June 10, Weibo had banned a related hashtag and limited users’ ability to view related content.
CDT editors have also archived and translated some comments from Weibo users about the criminal ring, the BBC documentary, and Weibo’s hashtag- and content-blocking:
棺材质检员：”It’s funny when you talk about ‘rule of law.'”
PrincessAliceH：Their solution to the problem is to cover people’s mouths.
5G逼：Rumor Refuted: There’s No Such Thing as the BBC!
大概萌新：BBC? Who’d believe them?
言人焦米饭：Dude, I bet you haven’t even watched the documentary, or searched for Uncle Qi on Twitter. His account is still there, and the content hasn’t been deleted. The website still exists, but it isn’t loading anymore.
雏甜儿：I was so sad that that schoolgirl said, “No one in the whole subway car came to help me,” but I didn’t expect her next sentence to be, “So I had to catch him myself.” [crying emoji] Thank you!
文二—：I just watched it on YouTube, too. Those BBC reporters are so brave … I hope this will help change all of East Asian society.
ppnoyy：Huh, even this topic was banned by Weibo.
捕食憨憨：So it turns out that there are a lot of people involved in this, and it has become a systematic and large-scale industry. How do these men view their own mothers and sisters, I wonder?
云之与你：Some of the people making comments are so ridiculous. Which is the fake: the upskirting website, or the BBC documentary? Why won’t they just let us watch the documentary? Is it because they’re secretly peeping at the upskirting site?
蜘蛛猴面包：A really amazing documentary, and kudos to the undercover cameraperson and director. It’s just too bad that “Maomi” [another nickname for the ringleader, “Uncle Qi”] wasn’t brought to justice.
青柠乌龙茶少冰：What’s absurd is that the gang was exposed by the BBC, not by our own government.
张苏臣_：Speaking of investigative journalists, I still remember Jian Guangzhou, who exposed the melamine scandal all those years ago, and what he posted online: “[A]ll the sadness and happiness, all the dreams. I suffered and endured everything because of the dream I had.” Even after all that, he never lost his love for the journalistic profession.
海上钓鳌客：Are there still investigative journalists in China? [Chinese]