Chinese university students have found that the social media platform We Chat has surreptitiously blocked dozens of accounts belonging to individuals in LGBTQIA+ groups. WeChat claims these LGBTQIA+ groups violated the guidelines for sharing information on the internet, reports ABC News.
Several groups have expressed concern over their account access being blocked and their content being deleted on Tuesday, July 6. The move from the tech platform accompanies fears of censorship and the worsening attitudes of the government towards LGBTQIA+ groups.
“They censored us without any warning. All of us have been wiped out,” said the account manager of one of the affected profiles. “Many of us suffered at the same time.”
According to The Guardian, these university groups created a safe space for youth on campus to feel part of a community. Having operated for years without trouble, these groups feel that the WeChat blocks were a show of censorship by Tencent, WeChat’s parent company.
Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai’s China Centre, says he believes the blocks make it harder for LGBTQIA+ groups. He created a Twitter thread that discussed China’s LGBTQIA+ developments. “It’s unclear whether authorities seek to shrink space or eliminate it but regardless the squeeze is hurting,” he wrote.
Homosexuality was illegal until 1997 in China, and classified as a mental health disorder until 2001. According to The Guardian, the sentiment regarding LGBTQIA+ groups has shifted towards acceptance and commercialisation, but the Chinese government has not followed suit.
ABC News reports that the WeChat censorship may have arisen from the Cyberspace Administration of China’s pledge to clean up the internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups deemed a “bad influence”.
The changes on WeChat are a signal of the roadblocks LGBTQIA+ groups face in China when it comes to finding community and organising for better visibility.