Reddit users have taken to flooding the site with images and comments about Tiananmen Square, human rights, and Winnie the Pooh after it was reported by TechCrunch that Chinese tech giant Tencent would be investing 150-300 million USD in the platform.
Last year, Reddit joined Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and most Google services in becoming unavailable on a normal internet connection behind the “Great Firewall”, China’s network of internet censorship. The r/china and r/sino subreddits along with other China-related sections of the site have largely continued as normal since then, but recent days have seen the former in particular — along with the more generalist r/all and r/pics subs — swamped by discussions that the PRC authorities would likely deem “unharmonious”.
The r/pics subreddit was also an area of focus
The posts were prompted by reports that Tencent, the conglomerate behind the world’s biggest gaming publisher and China’s dominant WeChat app, was considering sinking 150-300 million USD into Reddit as part of a funding round.
Attempts by an in-house team to censor content, including but not limited to personal messages, are a constant occurrence on WeChat. Yet it’s unclear how much access if any Tencent’s investment will get them to Redditors’ user data and the company is unlikely to be able to control what content is posted to the site.
However, writing on Gizmodo, Patrick Howell O’Neill argues,
“Tencent is, at great cost and ultimately for great profit, literally reinventing censorship in China. The Great Firewall was not built by the Communist Party in Beijing, it’s built by the tech giants all around China. This opaque but clearly powerful relationship between the $500 billion company and the Chinese government raises interesting and unanswered questions about Tencent’s forays into the West, including questions about Reddit’s future.”
That article drew the following response from Shenzhen-based maker and frequent Twitter commentator Naomi Wu:
When you've moved nearly all public debate to private platforms, and encouraged billionaire platform owners to censor that debate, being surprised about who buys that control is like selling guns out of the trunk of your car and being surprised at who your customers are. https://t.co/kIFnfe6BUX— Naomi Wu 机械妖姬 (@RealSexyCyborg) February 10, 2019
When you've moved nearly all public debate to private platforms, and encouraged billionaire platform owners to censor that debate, being surprised about who buys that control is like selling guns out of the trunk of your car and being surprised at who your customers are. https://t.co/kIFnfe6BUX
— Naomi Wu 机械妖姬 (@RealSexyCyborg) February 10, 2019
Tencent is of course keen to be seen as a tech company rather than an instrument of the government (see also: Huawei). Its investments are wide-ranging and as Fortune notes,
The money is pocket change for Tencent, which has a market value of $427 billion. While it may seem ironic that one of China’s most beloved companies is investing in a site that is blocked in the country, it’s not the first time Tencent has invested in American social media. The company also owns a stake in Snapchat, another service that is blocked by China’s Great Firewall.
A lot of Tencent’s investment in other firms continues to be focused on homegrown startups and unicorns, but there are some big international names in its portfolio too. There’s a 5% stake in Tesla, a holding in Uber, and ownership of just under half of Fortnite creator Epic Games, for example. Interestingly, Tencent itself is 30% owned by South African media giant Naspers.
Meanwhile, some Redditors have responded to the news as Redditors do:
Cover photo: Con Karampelas on Unsplash
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