Bilibili and AcFun, two video streaming websites that are particularly popular among Chinese young people, have shut down their real-time commenting function, also known as the “bullet screen” (弹幕 dànmù), until June 6.
On Wednesday night, Bilibili issued a sudden announcement that it had closed its danmu feature because of “a technical upgrade” of its comments sharing system, which allows viewers to plaster text directly on top of an uploaded video while watching it. Roughly around the same time, AcFun released a similar statement, saying that the shutdown would last until June 6.
Meanwhile, Douban has closed one of its most popular groups, “Douban Goose Group” (豆瓣鹅组 dòubàn é zǔ), a subreddit-like community where the conversations are mostly about celebrity gossip. While the group’s guidelines explicitly state that “sensitive topics” are strictly banned, it’s not uncommon for its members to discuss some social issues before moderators censor their posts and comments. According to Douban, the group would remain shut for 30 days due to the need for “technical maintenance,” which is a euphemism often employed by Chinese internet companies when services are suspended because of government regulations or censorship.
It remains unclear how many Chinese websites have stepped up their censorship efforts recently. The shuttering of danmu on Bibili and AcFUN, which should be big news as it will affect millions of users, hardly made any headlines in Chinese mainstream media. But given the timing of these abrupt decisions — we’re less than a week away from the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Beijing June 4 crackdown — some internet users on Chinese social media speculated that the termination of real-time commenting feature and the closure of Douban Goose Group are a preemptive move to avoid troubles in a sensitive period of time.
Under the only post (in Chinese) we could find on Weibo that mentioned Bilibili’s announcement, a netizen wrote, “I suggest you disable comments. Otherwise the police will come and find you.” Another Weibo user wryly observed, “Whoa there are so many systems that need to be upgraded lately.”