Reddit Users Rally Against Chinese Censorship After $300 Million Funding Round

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One of the many anti-China posts that appeared on the popular r/pics subreddit.

As news that Chinese company Tencent will invest $150 million in Reddit ricocheted across the popular aggregation website, Redditors expressed fears about censorship — and shared a lot of Winnie the Pooh and Tiananmen Square pictures, Tara Law said with Time.

The deal with Tencent, a holding company which specializes in technology, is reportedly part of Reddit’s plan to raise $300 million to support the company’s operations, according to a report released Tuesday by TechCrunch.

Reddit is known as a platform for open discussion and free speech.

Many users feared that Tencent’s investment could lead to the censorship of Reddit outside of China, given the site is already blocked by the Chinese Government’s internet firewall.

It’s because of money. A lot of money

If you’re not super familiar with it, Reddit is a website that bills itself as the “front page of the internet”. It’s an aggregator of content from all over the web, with users subscribing to different communities of interest called subreddits, ABC reports.

Users vote on new links as they’re shared, with the most popular posts rising to the top. It boasts more than 330 million monthly active users across 150,000 communities.

Notably, Reddit is blocked in China.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Reddit was looking to raise $US150 million to $US300 million ($211 million – $422 million) in a funding round led by Chinese tech company Tencent.

The company is reportedly worth over $400 billion, making it one of the world’s most valuable tech companies.

Some of the world’s most popular videogames (League of Legends, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Clash of Clans) are eitherpart or fully owned by Tencent, but in China the company is known for its music and social media services.

It owns the enormously popular Chinese social media app WeChat.

And while Tencent isn’t state owned, it hasn’t been afraid of working closely with the Chinese Government to carry out censorship on its WeChat platform.

Will Chinese firm’s stake in Reddit normalise censorship?

Rights activists have justifiable concerns about investment in western media companies, Emily Bell said with the Guardian.

The relationship between corporate China and western technology companies, particularly social platforms and search engines that profess free expression and privacy protection as core values, is often contradictory and increasingly alarming to free speech and human rights advocates.

Silicon Valley’s interest in money, however, routinely trumps its interest in free expression. “China is just too big a market to walk away from,” a former Silicon Valley executive recently told Emily Bell. Apple has a large investment in China, including manufacturing, Facebook has been exploring ways of entering the market and human rights protesters have, within the last month, protested outside Google’s offices about Project Dragonfly, its Chinese search engine, which complies with the country’s stringent censorship requirements.

Nobody expects the Communist party to extend its power directly through investments in companies like Reddit, but the normalisation of a repressive regime through its embrace of a type of state capitalism deserves wider attention.

Censorship fears spark criticism of Tencent funding

The reported investment of Chinese company Tencent in the Reddit platform has outraged users concerned over potential future censorship.

China has a strict internet censorship regime known as the Great Firewall and Reddit is among the sites it blocks, BBC reports.

The government’s internet censorship regime uses a series of technical measures to block foreign platforms and controversial content.

China-based messaging services -including Tencent-owned WeChat – and social media are restricted, with key words and expressions blocked if they express dissent or ridicule senior political leaders.

In recent days Reddit users shared images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and Winnie the Pooh in reference to concerns a tie-up with the Chinese firm would lead to stricter content controls.

In the past, Chinese authorities have blocked information related to the crackdown against protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of the event. Search terms such as “six four” – a reference to the date of the event 4 June and “never forget” when typed into Chinese search engines have not returned any results.

The Chinese ruling party requires that social networks operating in the country offer “healthy” environments, and in November, this led to a mass clean-up of the app in light of the government’s demands.

The crackdown, which included political information, pornography, content which infringes copyrights and “vulgar” content, is only a small aspect of China’s wider censorship regime.

ZDNet said the likelihood of an investor asking for access to customer data in return for VC funding is morally ambiguous at best and could spell disaster for any firm which agrees without transparency. A few hundred million is a drop in the ocean for the Chinese conglomerate, and so it is far more likely that the company simply sees an opportunity to turn a profit.

By Staff writer
Source: TechCrunch/ABC/BBC/ZDNet/Time

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