China's social media website Weibo reverses ban on homosexual content after criticism

A person uses the popular social app Weibo

China's Weibo backflips on gay content ban amid fierce backlash

Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular social media sites, has reversed a ban on content "related to" homosexuality. The move came as China attempted to ban gay content from the internet.

Following the online outcry from LGBT advocates outraged that Weibo lumped gay content in with pornography and violence, and faced with threats that people would begin dumping Sina Weibo stock, the company backtracked on its statement and said that the "cleanup" will "no longer apply to homosexual content".

Users of the Chinese microblogging website Sina Weibo started an online protest with the hashtag "I am gay" in response to a ban of "homosexual" content.

Then over the weekend, the #IAmGay hashtag went viral, while the official People's Daily in an opinion piece said, "It is common sense to respect people's sexual orientation". The same hashtag was also viewed almost 300 million times, Reuters reported.

"Everyone is unique and sexuality is just one side of us that differs, just like skin colour, height and weight", the essay said.

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In a post that has since been removed by the site, another user defiantly wrote, "Can't stop the rising rainbow" and included a rainbow emoji.

"Through everyone's unrelenting efforts, we finally got a basic right - how rare!" wrote another. "In the 48 hours, thanks to you".

On Saturday, "The Gay Voice", a popular Weibo page devoted to gay rights issues and gay art, announced to its 230,000-plus followers that it would suspend posting due to an "event of force majeure".

The ruling Communist Party aims to purge the internet of any content deviating from its "core values of socialism", with the micro-blogging site moving to block such "illegal content" over the course of three months.

The platform - which has some 400 million active monthly users - said in its original Friday statement that it was merely implementing China's new cybersecurity law and had already removed some 56,240 items.

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Many net users have interpreted the reversal of Weibo's gay content ban as a victory.

Although homosexuality is no longer a crime in China, a conservative culture persists that looks down on people in same-sex relationships.

The news agency said the firm did not comment on whether its decision to ban homosexual content was based on a government directive or a step in self-censorship.

The climbdown from Weibo comes amid a broad crackdown in China on online content. President Xi Jinping has tightened restrictions on online speech as well as the press, which is heavily censored.

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