Tech companies have been strangely silent on the subject of Chinese censorship. But one reason for their silence might be the millions Chinese companies have invested in these platforms.
In a May 30 podcast with the Harvard Business Review, Reddit COO Jen Wong sang the praises of the company’s newest investor, Chinese tech company Tencent. She told the Review that Tencent was “a really impressive company” who had “enormous success.” However, she failed to mention why Tencent would be a controversial investor -- as the builders of China’s infamous Great Firewall of Censorship.
In February, Tencent spearheaded a new line of investments into Reddit, giving the platform $150 million. Wong shrugged off an inquiry from the Review over whether Reddit was looking to expand into China. “It’s not on the top of our list,” she said. Even if it was, the site is ironically banned in China completely.
Wong mentioned why Tencent was interested in Reddit, however. She said, “their core business is in every area that surrounds Reddit. It’s in gaming, chat, interest groups, live streaming and video content. So there’s an incredible amount that we can learn from them.”
Tencent runs China’s WeChat, a social media platform notorious for censorship. CitizenLab, a Toronto news outlet, reported that users on WeChat were not able to post about controversial actions underway in China. The arrests of 250 Chinese human rights lawyers were banned from discussion in the online community. Algorithms were put in place to filter out mentions of the words.
Algorithms were also made to filter out banned topics on images and memes. The filter grays out the forbidden texts or pictures.
Censorship in China has another meaning. Those caught messaging, sharing, or spreading banned information are usually arrested. Software alerting the authorities is built into WeChat to help prosecute those who break the rules.
This is the company that Reddit wants to learn from.