China's WeChat has permanently banned almost all “LGBT” public groups run by college students.
In a since-deleted post on Twitter-like Chinese social media app Weibo, a user who often posts about such issues claimed that complaints about the bans began on Monday evening.
Users of the affected groups discovered they had been shut down through a notice on the groups' main pages that said the groups were terminated as a result of WeChat receiving “relevant reports from users,” and determined that the groups “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet.”
WeChat is yet to provide any further explanation and there has been no official word from the government about a crackdown on the groups.
According to the Weibo user, the apparent crackdown affected nearly all public accounts created and run by LGB organizations at Chinese colleges and universities, including top schools such as Peking University and Tsinghua University.
According to news outlet SupChina, some comments on the Weibo post claimed that some of the deleted groups had been inactive for years. Going by these claims, it means that the purge was not a result of recent violations of WeChat's rules.
Some commenters suggested the crackdown was part of a government-backed campaign to silence LGB and transgender communities in Chinese campuses. These groups are not recognized by the management of their institutions.
The speculation was further supported by a screenshot of an alleged government order that has been doing rounds on Chinese social media. The unverified document, dated May 19, is an order by the Jiangsu Province's Education Ministry to Hohai University to perform a “comprehensive inspection” of LGB and feminist student organizations on its campus. The inspection was supposed to cover the organizations' members and their social media presence.
The ban of the groups was heavily criticized by the community and others. One Weibo user wrote, “What a giant step backward for my country. I'm so disappointed.” Another said, “What saddens me the most is we have no idea how to revolt and who we should react against.”
WeChat, owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, is arguably the largest social media app in China. It is used for normal social media activities such as chatting and sharing and debating views but it is the integrated payment feature that makes it something of a basic need for most residents of China.