Ongoing discrimination and censorship on the LGBT community in China strike again as several groups linked to the community have been blocked and removed by the social media platform, WeChat.
WeChat is one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, competing with the likes of Facebook and Instagram. They are owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, which has also seen itself on the rise in the multimedia business.
Because of its roots in China, where all companies are required to obey the Communist Party, the app has seen some backlash from the international community, mainly due to surveillance issues. It was among the apps banned from use in the U.S. during the Trump administration. However, the ban had since been lifted by President Biden last month.
‘All of us have been wiped out‘
Currently, WeChat has made its move to delete several accounts linked to LGBT groups run by university students. According to the app, the action was taken because the groups violated Chinese internet laws.
LGBT and feminism have seen an increasing following, particularly in wealthier Chinese cities, as the country began globalizing in the 1980s and 1990s, a trend was largely tolerated until last decade. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made appeals to nationalism, diminishing the influence of Western-style progressivism as the Communist Party he leads is redoubling its efforts to indoctrinate the country in its Marxist-Leninist thought.
University students in the LGBT groups have reported that access to their accounts was blocked and their content deleted entirely. One anonymous account holder of a group told Reuters that “many of us suffered at the same time.”
“They censored us without any warning. All of us have been wiped out.”
A Weibo user also shared online, in a post that was also deleted by WeChat, that complaints surrounding the removal of LGBT content had started to fill up last year, with more accounts being shut down. These accounts were also linked to Chinese colleges, like Tsinghua University and Peking University.
According to Reuters, they have made several attempts to access some of the accounts, but all they got was a notification from WeChat stating that these groups “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet.”
Search results on other groups did not yield anything either and WeChat had not responded to any of Reuters’ questions.
The recent move by WeChat has many speculating about a general crackdown of online gay content in China. Users have expressed their discontent with the termination of accounts.
Growing scrutiny of LGBT in China
The growing crackdown on LGBT and other nonconformist groups comes as the Communist Party expands its control over society. While the CCP has always targeted political and religious dissidents with brutal persecution campaigns, these have not always been given a high profile in the foreign press, particularly amid the “reform and opening up” of the last several decades.
A lax attitude towards Western pop culture and social trends among the business-oriented Party leadership of the time fueled perceptions that the CCP was making a pragmatic attempt at engaging with the developed world and assimilating to its values.
For example, homosexuality was originally classified as a mental disorder in China in 1997. This categorization was reversed in 2001.
More recently, the authorities have pushed back against the spread of LGBT, a major example of which being the cancelation of Shanghai Pride in 2020.
And a court recently accepted a university’s classification of homosexuality as a “physiological disorder,” stating that it was simply an “academic view.”
The Cyberspace Administration of China plans to purge the Internet of social media groups that are considered a “bad influence” for youths in the country.
LGBT groups in universities have also been questioned over their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government, which prompted a meeting in May between student groups and representatives of the Communist Youth League, which oversees students affairs by the CCP.
The groups were investigated to find out if they were anti-Party or anti-China, as well as being asked where they had received their funding from. After the meeting, they were made to disband.
“Authorities have been tightening the space available for LGBT advocacy and civil society generally,” said Darius Longarino, from Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai’s China Center, who specializes on LGBT rights and gender equality. “This is another turning of the screw,” he told Reuters.