Top Chinese social media platform Weibo has banned the official account of the German consulate in Guangzhou for “violating community standards” after it posted information about a LGBTQ film festival jointly hosted with 16 other foreign governments.
The ban, which has now been in effect for more than two full days, was instated after nationalist Weibo users flooded the platform’s censors with reports that the German consulate’s message was politically problematic.
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All of the diplomatic mission’s prior content is no longer accessible and its page now reads: “This account cannot currently be viewed because of complaints that it has violated regulations related to ‘Weibo Community Standards.’”
Foreign embassies in China frequently host film screenings, talks and cultural events about sensitive topics that typically couldn’t take place outside their premises. Li Dan, the curator of the China Women’s Film Festival who works closely with international embassies on these sorts of film showcases, said the incident was the result of “a trend of growing nationalism among young people.”
“To ban the Weibo account of a foreign consulate is a decision that impacts both diplomacy and international image, and so must be made cautiously by the government. I don’t think it could possibly be shut down because of a single Weibo post about homosexuality, especially since the relationship between Germany and China hasn’t recently taken a big hit,” he assessed. In his opinion, the matter “seems like the personal decision of some young patriot at Weibo.”
The month-long “2021 LGBTI Film Festival Guangzhou” begins Saturday and consists of 18 one-off screenings of films and shorts on LGBTQ topics at different foreign consulates. They will be attended by a limited number of people who have registered ahead of time.
Among the works set to screen are Celine Sciamma’s 2019 Cannes competition period romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which won her the prize for best screenplay; “No Ordinary Man,” the new documentary about transgender icon Billy Tipton; the Israeli romantic drama “Out in the Dark,” which premiered at Toronto; Denmark’s “A Perfectly Normal Family,” about a father coming to terms with his transgender identity; and New Zealand’s “Rurangi,” recently picked up for the U.S. by Hulu, among others.
The U.S. consulate will screen the 2017 doc “The Lavender Scare” about the American government’s persecution of homosexuals and those suspected of being gay in the name of “national security.”
Other consulates have also posted announcements of the event. In its own Weibo post promoting the festival, the British consulate in Guangzhou wrote that the series “aims to show LGBT-themed films to allow homosexual, bisexual, transgender and other queer gendered people to boost their self-knowledge and to increase tolerance and acceptance of diversity.”
It concluded with the hashtag “#Love is GREAT!”
Angry commenters have amplified calls for Weibo users to file complaints against these other consulates as well, although so far no other accounts have been censored. Hundreds of comments attack the consulates for “spreading poison” with such statements, calling on them to “beat it back to your own country.”
Much of the invective hinges on the idea that promoting LGBTQ awareness and acceptance is part of an attempt to subvert China’s political values and system.
Li explained that, lately, LGBTQ issues and feminism “are seen by angry young patriots as an anti-China conspiracy carried out by Europe and the U.S.”
“These nationalists see Germany’s Weibo post as a part of that conspiracy. It would therefore be easy for some administrator or mid-level manager at Weibo to make a decision [to ban Germany’s account] out of ‘patriotism,’” he said.
Twitter has also frozen accounts of Chinese embassies and diplomats abroad, who use the platform even though it is banned in their own country. These temporary suspensions are often in response to comments deemed culturally insensitive or, in the company’s terms, “dehumanizing.”
Although such incidents are in no way related, the complicated role played by social media in setting the limits of speech has fanned the flames of jingoistic indignation. Many nationalists on Weibo are now calling for payback.
“How many accounts of our foreign embassies have been blocked on Twitter? Proper behavior is based on reciprocity — yet we’re only shutting down one,” one popular comment read. “We will exercise our right to freely ban accounts against any embassy that dares to make trouble on our country’s platforms!”
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