Users flood Reddit with China censorship memes, balk at $150 million investment from Tencent

Political satire about the censorship of Winnie the Pooh in China. Illustration by @Badiucao, used with permission.

If you search “China” on Reddit this week, you'll find a deluge of political memes — from the Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” photo to Winnie the Pooh to the Terminator.

These are all in protest of Reddit's recent decision to let Chinese tech giant Tencent invest $150 million into the company.

The top item in a “China” search on Reddit is Tank Man, a news photo taken at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 when the Chinese military unleashed a violent, fatal crackdown on peaceful protesters. Such images are nearly impossible to find online in China.

Screen capture of “Tank Man” post by @FreeSpeechWarrior on Reddit. Original photo by Jeff Widener, Associated Press. Reproduced under Fair Use.

Reddit user Free Speech Warrior explained why he posted the photo on Reddit:

Given that reddit just took a $150 million investment from a Chinese censorship powerhouse, I thought it would be nice to post this picture of “Tank Man” at Tiananmen Square before our new glorious overlords decide we cannot post it anymore.

In its latest funding round, Reddit garnered a total of $300 million in investments, half from Tencent and half from the company’s former investors, including Sequoia, Fidelity, Tacit and Snoop Dogg.

The platform has 330 million active users with 14 billion screenviews per month, but it is inaccessible in China due to the country's robust internet censorship regime. All major foreign social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked by China's so-called Great Firewall.

Tencent is behind the country's most popular social media app, WeChat, and online game League of Legends. The corporation strictly abides by the Chinese law in domestic censorship measures and in recent years has attempted to extend its mobile apps to the international market.

While Chinese companies regularly invest in US media companies, this makes for an unusual match.

Although there is no indication that Tencent would have the power to promote Chinese-style censorship on Reddit, the idea of Reddit and Tencent having any sort of business relationship still feels like a paradox. Tencent is a major enforcer of China's massive social media censorship regime, while on Reddit, almost all ideas and speech are welcome. And right now, a whole lot of those ideas are coming from Reddit users who fear that the investment will lead to more censorship on the platform.

The Tank Man post on Reddit was viewed more than 203,000 times and prompted many users to post related political messages.

In one comment thread, @SpunTheOne invited people to share tricks for getting around China's Great Firewall. And another user reminded people of the security risks of using made-in-China computer devices:

China is something else. You can buy a Chinese tablet straight from China and it will have locks for accessing Google or installing the US play store. Their firmware is totally censorship driven.

A photo showing a “re-education camp” in China's Xinjiang region posted by @thehazardbal triggered another popular protest on Reddit. The Reddit user expressed worries over potential content screening with Tencent's investment:

The Chinese are baselessly putting Uighurs into internment camps just because they are Muslims. Figured I would put this out there before it becomes banned.

Other Reddit users reflected on the power of big tech companies in this discussion thread:

Tech companies are in a dilemma here, on one hand China is like the golden whale of untapped potential for $$$. On the other hand working with them often means giving tacit, outright support or even assistance to the moral and ethical failures of their government. more and more tech companies are showing that they are no better than previous corporate industries by supporting this regime which has an absolutely brutal human rights record.

A pro-Taiwan independence user also took the opportunity to promote their political position. @Foxeydog said:

Since Reddit has accepted Chinese censorship money. Need to get this out there. SUPPORT AN INDEPENDENT TAIWAN

Winnie the Pooh, a censored meme on Chinese social media, also made an appearance:

Since Reddit took a $150 million investment from Chinese Censorship company Tencent, please welcome our leader President Xi.

The cartoon bear was censored on Chinese social media after users began to (mockingly) compare his tubby body type to that of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The meme protests have amassed plenty of attention online, despite there being little evidence that Tencent will intervene in Reddit's content moderation practices. Nevertheless, @Dariusz2K reminded the protesting Reddit fellows:

Terminator meme.


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