Chinese can use social networking apps intended for the LGBT community—unless they mention or discuss religion there.
by Chen Tao
Many religions have made statements on the subject of sexual orientation. Different religions, and even different denominations, and religious devotees within religions, have different attitudes toward the LGBT community. At the same time, some LGBT people are religious themselves, and have their own views on the relationship between their faith and their sexual orientation. These phenomena are common in democracies because they are part of religious liberty. But Bitter Winter has learned that gays in China are prohibited from talking about religion or expressing their religious beliefs on social networking apps that they usually use. If they try to do so, they will have their posts deleted or even their accounts blocked.
Blued is currently the largest gay social networking app in China, and also the largest gay social networking app in the world. Launched in 2012 in China, the app now has over 40 million users worldwide. Its features include verified profiles, live broadcasting, a timeline, and group conversations.
Although Blued is famous for its success, it is less well-known that Blued explicitly prohibits religious content as a violation. Article 10 of the Blued Code of Conduct lists religion-related content as a “violation of Blued platform regulations,” which list Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, religious associations, Buddhist studies, * churches, and other “prohibited words,” and states that users who violate the regulations “will have their signatures, avatars and other information deleted. Depending on the severity of the situation, some functions of the account will be restricted and interaction with other people will be limited. Blued reserves the right to close the accounts of repeat offenders.”
What’s more, article 12 of the Blued Code of Conduct prohibits religion-related content in private chats, group chats, dynamics, and base scenes in general, and states that“first-time offenders will be warned and the content will be removed. Those with serious circumstances will be disqualified from participating in all group chats. Other scene violations will make Blued delete the offending content and block the user’s login devices.”
One gay Christian told Bitter Winter that Blued’s censorship of religious content has seen a gradual process of intensification. “At first the platform side banned posts about queer theology, then it wouldn’t let us declare ourselves as Christians on our user pages, and then even private chats about religion could be reported, leading to blocking.”
Another Blued user told Bitter Winter that from the beginning Blued’s censorship for religious content mainly targeted Christianity, but since 2017 traditional Chinese religious content like Buddhism and Taoism have also been disallowed from appearing on the platform.
Another gay social networking app named Fanka（翻咔）, less well-known than Blued but also used by many Chinese users, also includes a general reference to religion and related content as prohibited items in Article 13 (“Other prohibited content”) of its code of conduct. Bitter Winter has been unable to clarify how Fanka came up with such rules, but given that Fanka has been acquired by Blued’s parent company, it was somewhat expected that it would adopt a similar censorship regime.
A Chinese Internet industry analyst who wished to remain anonymous stated that the ban on religious content on gay social media apps like Blued is supposed to be at the direct behest of the Chinese Communist Party. “The government believes that religious activities should be strictly controlled within religious sites, and the LGBT community is also seen as a factor affecting social stability, so it wants to prevent the combination of the two,” the analyst said.