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2021-12-08 13:19:48

Discussing gender issues on social media can often lead to controversy. In China, it’s also leading to a growing number of users’ accounts being shut down.

Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social platform, announced Thursday that it had deleted 54 accounts and muted another 472 users for up to 30 days each for “hate speech, gender opposition, and incitement to conflict.” The 526 sanctioned accounts are no longer accessible.

The company didn’t specify what the punished users had said that violated the platform’s regulations. Weibo did not respond to Sixth Tone’s interview request by time of publication.

Weibo — one of China’s biggest social platforms with over 560 million monthly active users — has become a battleground for debates over social issues in recent years. As feminist groups have found it more difficult to host offline events, many have turned to organizing campaigns on social media. Women also frequently use Weibo to speak out about sexual harassment and domestic violence, and to discuss other gender issues affecting Chinese society. 

But Weibo has begun policing gender discussions much more strictly in recent months. Last July, the platform introduced a new mechanism for users to report others for “provoking hate,” which it said applied to issues including sexism and racism.

Then, in January, it froze a user’s account for “provoking gender opposition” — the first known instance of the platform using the term. The user, a self-described feminist, had her account deactivated for 30 days after commenting on a story about a man who had recently killed himself. “Can’t women start having sympathy for themselves (rather than for men)?” she wrote.

The platform has increasingly started sanctioning users for “creating gender opposition” since then. In September, Weibo muted 6,767 accounts and deleted another 185 for comments related to an incident in the northwestern city of Xi’an, when a security guard inside a subway station forcibly removed a female passenger from a train, exposing the woman’s skin and underwear.

The altercation went viral on Chinese social media and caused many women to voice anger over the staff’s rough treatment of the passenger. Weibo later issued a statement explaining why it had shut down so many accounts following the incident.

“Some accounts deliberately intensified conflicts, carried out regional discrimination, and provoked gender confrontations,” the company wrote. “Weibo has always insisted on fulfilling its social responsibilities, and our main responsibility is to deal with such accounts severely.”

Weibo also published screenshots of six user comments that led the platform to shut down the users’ accounts. “This news has made me so angry, the disgusting man doesn’t have the right to (treat the woman like that),” one comment read.

Editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: Vectorstock/People Visual)