2018-01-24 12:07:58

The founder of an online platform for finding someone to share your hotel room announced that users of different genders would no longer be able to see each other on the feature, after the service was suspended for obscenity on Wednesday.

The platform Tongzhu — which launched as a “mini app” within ubiquitous social network WeChat in August 2017 — came under fire last week after news reports said that its vulgar marketing implied that it was a medium for arranging one-night stands. By Wednesday, WeChat had blocked the feature, citing sexually suggestive content.

After logging into Tongzhu using your WeChat handle and profile photo, you can either publish an ad for the room you’re offering, or what you’re looking for. Though the platform’s stated aim is to help young people find quality accommodation at more affordable prices through the sharing economy, one screen within the app broadcasts: “Sleep with them, feel 20 again.”

According to a Jan. 17 report from Southern Metropolis Daily, users sent messages like “I want you to warm up the bed for me” despite the platform’s rules forbidding vulgar and pornographic content.

Open-minded, internet-savvy young Chinese are accustomed to finding friends, romance, and sometimes even casual encounters online, through channels ranging from WeChat’s embedded functions to dedicated dating or hookup apps like Tantan, Momo, and Blued. According to consulting group iResearch, Chinese dating apps boasted more than 21 million users at their peak in 2016.

Before its suspension, Tongzhu had more than 20,000 daily users, founder Wu Xüyang told Sixth Tone.

You Yunting, a lawyer from Shanghai DeBund Law Offices, told Sixth Tone that there is nothing unlawful about sharing hotel rooms. “Because guests will register at the hotel with their real identities, individuals can be held accountable if any legal problems occur,” You said. But if the platform uses sex as a selling point, he added, it could be held liable for encouraging sexual transactions — crossing the line into prostitution, which is a crime in China.

Wu told Sixth Tone that the platform was based on the concept of sharing, which has proved popular with younger generations, and the “feel 20 again” slogan referenced the title of a 2015 rom-com. “We wanted to convey that through room-sharing, one can regain that feeling of youth and romance,” Wu explained in a written statement.

Hotel room-sharing is not a new phenomenon in China’s sharing economy, which covers everything from umbrellas to battery packs. One room-sharing website launched in 2016 requires only users’ phone numbers to register. Wu said that Tongzhu protected its users by requiring real-name registration and credit ratings from the Alibaba-affiliated Zhima Credit service.

Tongzhu will be back after some adjustments, Wu said, but it will no longer offer room-sharing services for users of different genders. When the app becomes available again, the interface will only show same-sex users.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Westend61/VCG)