China Targets Low-Profile Social Network Douban for Censorship

May 20, 2022

China continues to do one of the things it does best: control the flow of information within its borders. Rest of World reports, “China’s Most Chaotic Social Network Survived Beijing’s Censors—Until Now.” Writer Viola Zhou describes the low-profile site:

“The chaotic Chinese social network Douban never looked for fame; it was designed for people with niche obsessions and an urge to talk about them. … Douban began as a review site for books, film, and music: the interests of its charismatic founder, Ah Bei. It quickly grew into a social network of millions of users.”

Those users bonded around shared interests both playful and serious. To keep the site rooted in a spirit of community, it has resisted both large-scale advertising and (unlike other social networks) government propaganda accounts. Douban managed to avoid scrutiny by China’s fervent censors since it launched in 2005. Until now. Zhou continues:

“In March, a government censorship task force was set up at the company’s headquarters. Over the past year, some of its most popular groups have shut down, its app was scrubbed from major Chinese stores, and on April 14, Douban froze a significant traffic driver, the gossip forum Goose Group, though it’s unclear whether each of those actions were the decisions of the website or government regulators. As China’s tech crackdown seeps into all parts of online life, the ability to organize around something as mild as shared interests is being throttled by Beijing’s censors. Rest of World spoke to more than a dozen early Douban employees, prominent group admins, and current users, most of whom requested anonymity in order to freely discuss Chinese censorship. For them, the reining-in of Douban signals that its creative, tight-knit communities have become an unacceptable political risk, as the Chinese government grows increasingly vigilant about any form of civil gathering.”

Yes, it seems citizens coming together over any topic, no matter how far from political or social matters, is a threat. The pressure on Douban is said to be part of the government’s campaign against a scourge dubbed “fan circle chaos.” Colorful. Some users hold out hope their beloved groups will someday be reinstated. Meanwhile, founder Ah Bei’s account has been inactive since 2019. See the write-up for more about Douban and some of its forums that have been shuttered.

Cynthia Murrell, May 20, 2022

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