The Chinese-based social media messaging app WeChat is under fire for suddenly deleting dozens of accounts belonging to LGBTQ individuals and groups at universities in multiple cities.
LGBTQ users told Reuters that WeChat blocked their accounts on July 6 for allegedly violating the country’s online rules. The Guardian reported that some users received messages saying the platform blocked them “after receiving relevant complaints,” and at least 10 chat groups led by queer college groups were shut down — including at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Shanghai’s Fudan University, according to Insider. Before the accounts were removed, college officials asked students not to mention their universities on social media and shutter LGBTQ online groups, an LGBTQ group founder told the AP.
In an interview with Reuters, one of the managers of an LGBTQ account said that this was another blow to online creators.
“Many of us suffered at the same time,” said the account manager, who declined to be named. “They censored us without any warning. All of us have been wiped out.”
The move by WeChat comes at a time of political turmoil following last year’s implementation of a “security” law in Hong Kong that has been used to clamp down on dissidents. There is also heightened adversity for the Chinese LGBTQ community one year after Shanghai Pride was forced to shut down following a 12-year run.
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, responded to the news in a July 7 press conference, saying the US is “concerned” that China “has restricted the social media accounts of LGBTQI+ student groups and NGOs that were merely expressing their views, exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech.”
“We oppose the use of network restrictions to suppress freedom of expression online,” Price said. “It does not matter to us whether that it is in China or anywhere else; we oppose it universally.”
In 2017, the China Netcasting Services Association, an agency overseeing online content, released additional regulations prohibiting homosexuality on the Internet. In 1997, the country decriminalized homosexuality. However, there are still no non-discrimination protections for China’s LGBTQ community. Two years ago, China’s Parliament voted against same-sex marriage, noting that the country’s laws only allow marriage between men and women.
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