Bilibili, China’s leading video-streaming website, never explicitly branded itself as a space for gay content. But since its launch in 2009, the platform has been a boon to the Chinese gay community and people who enjoy watching gay-themed shows or fan art because of its relatively open-minded attitude toward sexuality compared with that of other streaming services in China.
However, recently, a growing number of Bilibili users reported that some videos uploaded by them had been gradually taken offline for featuring same-sex romantic content like kissing scenes.
The ongoing purge came to the public’s attention thanks to a Weibo post (in Chinese) by @我叫柚子子柚叫我, who claimed that her videos about the Norwegian teen drama SKAM, which contains several gay storylines, were flagged as “inappropriate content” and were forcibly removed from the platform. Confused about the definition of “inappropriate content,” the user later contacted the Bilibili staff and was told that the site would no longer host “gay content with visuals that include kissing, or go beyond kissing.”
The post sparked heated discussions among Bilibili users, who found the site’s response self-contradictory. On the one hand, Bilibili wanted to make it clear that it took no issue with gay content in general and that the clampdown was not a form of discrimination against the gay community. But on the other hand, many users discovered that romantic content featuring male-female pairings was not targeted. “Apparently, according to Bilibili’s rules, straight people are entitled to do whatever they want, whereas gay people can only have platonic relationships,” one Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).
For a long time, Bilibili differentiated itself from other major streaming sites such as Tudou and Youku by providing a space for a variety of subculture groups to thrive. This constitutes a big portion of its appeal to young internet users in China, who seem to be more liberal in terms of sexuality. But since last year, Bilibili has come under closer scrutiny by internet regulators in China. In the summer of 2018, the site was taken off a number of Android app stores after being criticized by state-owned television for inappropriate and vulgar content. Amid the clampdown, Bilibili vowed to conduct “deep self-review and reflection,” which, in the eyes of its users, was a gesture of bowing to the pressures exerted on it by the government’s growing control over online content.