Chinese social media company WeChat has apparently removed accounts geared toward the LGBT community, fueling concerns from U.S. officials and human rights groups about continued efforts by the Chinese government to censor online content.
The founder of an LGBT group who spoke anonymously to The Associated Press for fear of retaliation said that dozens of social media accounts were shut down Tuesday evening, with account operators sent a notice informing them that they had violated platform rules.
The AP noted that no additional details were provided on what specific content led to the violations, nor what rules were used to justify the bans on the accounts, which included ones run by university students and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
While WeChat’s operating company, Tencent Holding Ltd., told the AP that it had received a request for comment, it did not immediately confirm the removal of the accounts or provide comment on the matter.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded to news of the bans during a Wednesday press briefing, telling reporters that the Biden administration is “concerned” that China had “restricted the social media accounts of LGBTQI Plus student groups and NGOs that were merely expressing their views, exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech."
“We oppose the use of network restrictions to suppress freedom of expression online,” he added, according to the AP.
While homosexuality has been decriminalized in China since 1997, the AP noted that LGBT people still face discrimination throughout the country.
Measures enacted by the government have continued to place limits on the LGBT community, including its strict cybersecurity law, under which LGBT content is included in the country’s ban on content deemed disruptive to China’s “social order.”
It was not immediately clear if the recent shutdowns were ordered directly by the Chinese government, though the ruling Communist Party has attracted increased scrutiny in recent months for its crackdown and regulation of specific content on online platforms operating in the country.
Former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE had issued a ban on WeChat, TikTok and other Chinese apps due to concerns on their collection of user data, though President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE signed an executive order last month replacing his predecessor’s move by directing an "evidence-based” analysis of risks posed by software and apps developed by a foreign adversaries that may represent an “undue or unacceptable risk to the national security” to U.S. citizens.