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LGBTQ in China lament ‘dark day’ after social media crackdown – Al Jazeera English

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Chengdu, China – A week ago without warning, WeChat, a popular social media platform in China, permanently suspended the official accounts of more than a dozen college LGBTQ groups, igniting a new round of debate on the country’s already threatened community.

The suspensions largely affected groups almost entirely run by students, including at prestigious academic institutions such as Tsinghua and Peking universities. The groups’ missions, according to their brief introductions, were “advancing gender equality and sexual minorities’ rights.”

Several students who run the LGBTQ group accounts told Al Jazeera that they had not previously received any warnings from the relevant authorities about any possible suspension.

Mary, a student who was involved in one of the suspended groups, says that while there had been “chatter” on campus on regulating “groups that advocate for sexual minorities’ rights” for a few months before, nothing had materialised.

“It came as a surprise, but at the same time, not so much,” said Mary, who preferred not to use her real name for security reasons. “We knew the LGBT rights movement was hitting obstacles one after another in China, but we thought at least by being university-affiliated, we could be exempt from any overt crackdown.”

Like Mary, everyone else who spoke Al Jazeera did so on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding LGBTQ issues.

These accounts now carry the tag “unnamed official account,” with a single message appearing beneath – “all content has been censored for the account’s violation of ‘internet official account information service management regulations.’” All the articles previously published on the platforms, mostly on gender issues and LGBTQ rights, have disappeared.

As in previous crackdowns in China, any effort to try and document the move was soon snuffed out, too. Some accounts were suspended simply for compiling a list of the accounts that had been deleted.

Neither the government nor Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, has given an explanation for the suspension.

People at groups that escaped the crackdown told Al Jazeera they were preparing for the worst.

One worker at a prominent LGBTQ group said he had started making copies of all articles published on their platform, currently numbering more than 1,000. Another went on Taobao, China’s e-commerce platform and paid someone to download all the articles, with topics ranging from health to political rights advocacy, on a number of accounts that she feared could be officials’ next targets.

Student-led accounts for the LGBTQ community were erased from China’s online platforms overnight on July 7 [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

For now, it is only the groups’ online presence that has been smothered but many groups are concerned that authorities could be preparing for a broader crackdown on campus events and activities by LGBTQ groups. People such as Mary say they are working hard to ensure “other activities go on as scheduled.”

“This is a dark day for us, and I don’t know if there’s anything I could do other than reaching out to my friends and comforting them,” Kevin, a gay man in Chengdu, told Al Jazeera, after hearing the news.

The online crackdown on the community caused an outcry on China’s social media.

Many voiced their support for the groups, even as they worried about the further encroachment into civil society.

“After years of having worked at this organisation and seeing my colleagues being interrogated, censored, forced to delete articles, I will never forgive this [country],” said a person who worked at another group that had fallen victim to the censorship.

Some others expressed their concern about the all-encompassing state censorship machine.

“What I fear most about this place is its ability to wipe out something just by snapping its finger,” wrote one user on Douban, another Chinese social media platform. “The something being a person, a group of people, an organisation, or even an ethnic group.”

Low-key Pride

Chinese government’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community shifts frequently. From time to time, the government has equated homosexuality with violence and obscenity, censored depictions on television and allowed books to refer to homosexuality as a kind of mental illness. However, at the same time, the government’s attitude towards the community is not always overtly hostile and Beijing has, by and large, left the community alone.

Since 2009, Shanghai has been marking Pride Month, which normally falls in June in most countries, with film screenings and public talks, although without the parade that is central to the celebrations elsewhere. Last year, the organisers were forced to halt the celebration due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But not everyone is supportive of the community.

The online crackdown singled out student groups at universities including the prestigious Peking University [File: Roman Pilipey/EPA]

There are many who fully endorse the government’s crackdown. Some people with big followings on Weibo are quite content with, if not ecstatic about, the latest development. “So glad that the government is finally taking some action on the LGBT organisations,” wrote Ziwuxiashi, a Weibo account with more than 500,000 followers. “The grief from [the supporters of the community] is our song of triumph!”

China’s more conservative forces have often exhibited a vehement hatred towards homosexuality or gender nonconformity for an alleged “agenda to destroy traditional values,” according to some vocal opponents of the movement, including some that brand themselves as science writers such as Vaccine and Science, an account with more than five million followers.

There remains no legal recognition of same-sex relationships or marriage but as people have become more socially liberal in recent years, those hostile to the LGBTQ community have shifted away from their “traditional values” argument.

A sampling of conversations happening on- and offline makes clear that another viewpoint is gaining traction: a suspicion that the LGBTQ community, especially on college campuses, is the pawn of a so-called “foreign hostile force” that could disrupt Chinese society and therefore needs to be carefully regulated.

“To target these groups is a good move because these students have learned so many bad things from foreign powers and are becoming their agents,” one user commented on Weibo.

‘Go-to tactic’

In recent years, the idea that feminism and LGBTQ equality are all products of Western ideology and their mere existence in China will destroy society has been widely shared, and as Beijing warms to the idea of assigning domestic discontent to meddling by foreign powers, their voices are being amplified.

“To advocate for equality is to stage colour revolution, to support feminism is the infiltration of Hong Kong independence movement, and to be pro-LGBT community is to receive monetary support from [US President Joe] Biden,” Wu, an organiser for an LGBTQ rights advocacy group in Shanghai, told Al Jazeera, describing some of the accusations levelled at them. “To label ordinary people with political marks, and then persecute them – that’s [the government’s] go-to tactic.”

Since Xi Jinping became president in 2012, political power has become even more centralised and the Communist Party increasingly sensitive to groups and organisations – from religion to culture and community – that could potentially pose as threats to its grip.

Despite the crackdown, people in the LGBTQ community retain a sense of optimism. ‘Love and hope are not that easy to take away,” they said [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

A report on China’s LGBTIQ movement published this month by ILGA Asia, the regional arm of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, found “limited visibility of LGBTIQ issues in social media and online activism is in a vulnerable state due to strict censorship by the authoritarian government.”

On social media, for example, instead of being called “couples” or “boyfriends,” same-sex partners are described as “roommates” to deliberately make the “gayness” less visible.

“This is [the government’s] implicit tactic of including homosexuality into the heteronormative narrative, thus ridding the LGBT group of their political voice,” wrote one WeChat user.

What awaits the group’s struggle for civil liberties in one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries remains uncertain. ILGA says that despite the “bleak scenario” there remain “opportunities” particularly in areas of violence and discrimination against the gay community and in legal rights advocacy.

And within the world’s largest LGBTQ community, people retain a sense of optimism.

“There are many things that could be stripped off of us, but love and hope – they are not that easy to be taken away,” said one person who works at an LGBTQ-focused NGO in Wuhan.

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Social media companies targeted in potential online harms bill, but legislation still a ways off – The Globe and Mail

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The federal government has launched a new consultation that it says will lead to combatting online hate shared on social media sites – a move that has prompted advocates to say real change isn’t coming fast enough.

The government is asking the public to respond to a proposal that includes creating a new Digital Safety Commissioner of Canada, as well as a Digital Recourse Council that Canadians can petition in order to have content removed from social media sites. The Recourse Council would have the power to make binding decisions to make sites remove content, though the consequences for not abiding by that ruling are not yet clear.

The plans, announced Thursday, focus on five categories of online harms: terrorist content, hate speech, content that incites violence, child sexual exploitation and the non-consensual sharing of images.

As government hosts antisemitism summit, opposition leaders say they should have been invited to speak

The government says it wants to bring in legislation on online hate, aimed at social media companies that play a role in sharing content. It would be in addition to Bill C-36, which targeted public hate speech by individuals. Bill C-36 did not pass into law after being introduced by the Liberal government at the end of the parliamentary session. If an election is called this summer, as is widely expected, the legislation will no longer move forward.

Despite a campaign being anticipated soon, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the new online harms bill would be introduced as a top priority “very early on when the House resumes its work in the fall.”

“We’re hearing loud and clear from Canadians that something needs to be done about online hate,” Mr. Guilbeault said in an interview.

“What we’re presenting is what we feel is the best course forward, but we want to hear Canadians on that, and that’s what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks.”

The government has posted details of its proposed approach on the Canadian Heritage section of its website and is asking the public to provide feedback by e-mail. The potential legislation would apply to sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but would exclude private communication channels such as WhatsApp and telecommunications networks.

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said creating online hate legislation would be a positive move. However, he said that at the moment it’s only “a plan to make a plan.”

“It should not have taken this long and it should not be taking any longer,” he said. “My fear is that an election is going to get called and this just gets swept away into partisan politics and people forget about it.”

Mr. Farber also raised the issue of how the process of dealing with online hate still heavily relies on victims self-reporting to have content removed, and said he’d like to see more of the onus fall on a new commissioner instead.

Daniel Bernhard, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in a statement that platforms such as Facebook and YouTube must be held responsible for their role in promoting illegal content on their sites. “Legislation aimed at tackling online harm must send a clear message to these firms and their leaders: if you allow illegal content to circulate on your platform, you will pay a price,” the statement reads.

Rob Moore, Conservative Shadow Minister for Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, said in an e-mailed statement Thursday that his party is “deeply concerned with the Liberal’s plan to create an online speech regulator whose powers are overly broad and ill-defined.”

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

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Social Reset promotes healthy social media usage – Belleville Intelligencer

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In a world dominated by online algorithms, Social Reset is working to free people from social media and help them develop a healthier relationship with the internet.

Its campaign begins in August. Those participating will team up by pledging to reduce their social media usage for the entire month. One of Social Reset’s founders, Jordan Wiener, hopes this smartphone-less time facilitates meaningful connections with loved ones.

“The idea is that you get more time connecting with each other offline,” he said. “(Social Reset) is really not about, you know, raising money or doing any of this. It’s about putting down your phone, going outside and making memories with your friends and family.”

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Wiener is one of several Queen’s University alumni behind Social Reset; its current 10 volunteers and 14 ambassadors are primarily composed of former and current students. A shared desire to act in the face of complacency unites them.

“(Social Reset) started out of a frustration between the awareness of the social media problem and the action,” Wiener said. “I’d speak to friends for an hour, but I’d follow up with them a month later, and no one had done anything about it.”

He blames the design of social media apps for this dissonance.

“Everyone knows that this is a problem, but it’s something that’s really hard to do something about because these platforms can be so addictive.”

Social Reset is how Wiener and colleagues are fighting for change. In partnering with Jack.org and the Centre for Humane Technology, they’ve created an initiative to help participants re-evaluate their relationship with social media.

Pledging can be done individually or as a group. Social Reset’s website offers different pathways for people pledging alone, with a group of friends, or with family. All pledges will receive a weekly “Adventure Guide” containing ideas for smartphone-free activities.

While Wiener lives happily without any social media, he recognizes how platforms such as Instagram and TikTok can often become creative outlets. He believes that intention is central in developing a healthy relationship with them.

“So instead of compulsively checking your phone and going on and watching things that you don’t know why you’re watching, you (should) say, ‘I’m using social media for this’ and then use it strictly for that purpose,” Wiener explained.

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He warned that without intention, social media ends up using its users.

“(Otherwise) they’ve got you addicted to the algorithm, and they’re profiting off of you for each second that you spend on the platform,” he said.

The Social Reset team has also been teaching purposeful social media usage in classrooms through an educational workshop. It has interactive programming for all ages, but children in grades 7 and 8 have been their primary focus.

“We’re youth presenting this workshop to other youth,” Wiener said. “We explain how social media can be an awesome thing but also challenging. Then we leave the class to come up with their own ‘creative contract’ of rules that they’re going to impose and try for a week.”

These rules chosen by the children can be anything from not using phones before bed to dedicating more screen-free time to family.

“A week after they’ve done that, we come back in with them, and for 45 minutes everyone just kind of shares their experiences,” Wiener said.

Through its August campaign and educational workshops, Social Reset is working hard to improve our relationship with social media.

Those interested in pledging can find more information at thesocialreset.org.

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Social Reset promotes healthy social media usage – The Kingston Whig-Standard

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Article content

In a world dominated by online algorithms, Social Reset is working to free people from social media and help them develop a healthier relationship with the internet.

Its campaign begins in August. Those participating will team up by pledging to reduce their social media usage for the entire month. One of Social Reset’s founders, Jordan Wiener, hopes this smartphone-less time facilitates meaningful connections with loved ones.

“The idea is that you get more time connecting with each other offline,” he said. “(Social Reset) is really not about, you know, raising money or doing any of this. It’s about putting down your phone, going outside and making memories with your friends and family.”

Advertisement

Article content

Wiener is one of several Queen’s University alumni behind Social Reset; its current 10 volunteers and 14 ambassadors are primarily composed of former and current students. A shared desire to act in the face of complacency unites them.

“(Social Reset) started out of a frustration between the awareness of the social media problem and the action,” Wiener said. “I’d speak to friends for an hour, but I’d follow up with them a month later, and no one had done anything about it.”

He blames the design of social media apps for this dissonance.

“Everyone knows that this is a problem, but it’s something that’s really hard to do something about because these platforms can be so addictive.”

Social Reset is how Wiener and colleagues are fighting for change. In partnering with Jack.org and the Centre for Humane Technology, they’ve created an initiative to help participants re-evaluate their relationship with social media.

Pledging can be done individually or as a group. Social Reset’s website offers different pathways for people pledging alone, with a group of friends, or with family. All pledges will receive a weekly “Adventure Guide” containing ideas for smartphone-free activities.

While Wiener lives happily without any social media, he recognizes how platforms such as Instagram and TikTok can often become creative outlets. He believes that intention is central in developing a healthy relationship with them.

“So instead of compulsively checking your phone and going on and watching things that you don’t know why you’re watching, you (should) say, ‘I’m using social media for this’ and then use it strictly for that purpose,” Wiener explained.

Advertisement

Article content

He warned that without intention, social media ends up using its users.

“(Otherwise) they’ve got you addicted to the algorithm, and they’re profiting off of you for each second that you spend on the platform,” he said.

The Social Reset team has also been teaching purposeful social media usage in classrooms through an educational workshop. It has interactive programming for all ages, but children in grades 7 and 8 have been their primary focus.

“We’re youth presenting this workshop to other youth,” Wiener said. “We explain how social media can be an awesome thing but also challenging. Then we leave the class to come up with their own ‘creative contract’ of rules that they’re going to impose and try for a week.”

These rules chosen by the children can be anything from not using phones before bed to dedicating more screen-free time to family.

“A week after they’ve done that, we come back in with them, and for 45 minutes everyone just kind of shares their experiences,” Wiener said.

Through its August campaign and educational workshops, Social Reset is working hard to improve our relationship with social media.

Those interested in pledging can find more information at thesocialreset.org.

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