Roughly a year after Sina Weibo introduced a controversial ban on gay-themed content, which sparked a massive outcry that prompted it to reverse its decision, the micro-blogging site appears to now be targeting the lesbian community, purging posts and comments that carry the hashtag #les, which is short for lesbian.
The quiet ban was first discovered by users of Weibo’s “super topic” (超话 chāohuà) feature, which allows individuals to create online communities organized around hashtags. While Weibo has yet to acknowledge the ban, the Beijing LGBT Center, a leading non-profit organization in China, noted that the clampdown on the hashtag #les began over the weekend. Before the purge, the “super topic” of “les” had more than 400 million views, around 125,000 posts, and 143,000 followers.
The discovery quickly caused a stir in the lesbian community, with many using Weibo to spread the word. For a brief amount of time, the word “les” was on the list of most-searched topics on Weibo; then the platform removed it. Weibo users also found out that they can no longer use the rainbow flag — widely recognized as a symbol of LGBT rights and social movements — in their bios.
Weibo is not the only Chinese website targeting lesbians. On social media site Douban, a lesbian group called “les sky,” which currently has more than 250,000 members, has been set to private and concealed from public search. Such clampdowns have led many to believe that Weibo’s ban on lesbian topics is a form of self-censorship amid a new clean-up campaign initiated by the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, which said in a document (in Chinese) released last week that online content betraying “correct marriage views and ethics” would be subject to deletion.
Last year in April, Weibo introduced a set of guidelines restricting content that features homosexuality for the purpose of creating “a bright and harmonious community environment.” The move was met with intense backlash as thousands of Weibo users used hashtags like #IAmGay and #IHaveGayFriends to express their support for the gay community. Facing angry reactions from the public, Weibo eventually backtracked from the ban.
Weibo users are now using that hashtag #IAmLes in face of the latest crackdown. As of the time of this writing, the hashtag has racked up more than 250 million views and 530,000 comments on Weibo. As a form of protest, some internet users have shared photos and silent videos of themselves with crosses on their mouths.