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16 Feb 2019 12:03
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  •   Home > News > International

    Reddit users revolt after reports of Chinese tech giant Tencent's possible investment

    Pictures of Winnie the Pooh and the Tiananmen Square protests began appearing in droves on Reddit after news of a potential investment in the site from Chinese tech giant Tencent.

    Over the weekend, pictures of the Tiananmen Square protest began popping up on one of the internet's most popular websites.

    So did pictures of Winnie the Pooh. And threads praising Taiwan.

    Why was Reddit — which was named the third most popular website on the internet last year — all of a sudden filled with anti-China posts?

    It's because of money. A lot of money

    If you're not super familiar with it, Reddit is a website that bills itself as the "front page of the internet". It's an aggregator of content from all over the web, with users subscribing to different communities of interest called subreddits.

    Users vote on new links as they're shared, with the most popular posts rising to the top. It boasts more than 330 million monthly active users across 150,000 communities.

    Notably, Reddit is blocked in China.

    Last week, TechCrunch reported that Reddit was looking to raise $US150 million to $US300 million ($211 million - $422 million) in a funding round led by Chinese tech company Tencent.

    The company is reportedly worth over $400 billion, making it one of the world's most valuable tech companies.

    Some of the world's most popular videogames (League of Legends, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Clash of Clans) are either part or fully owned by Tencent, but in China the company is known for its music and social media services.

    It owns the enormously popular Chinese social media app WeChat.

    And while Tencent isn't state owned, it hasn't been afraid of working closely with the Chinese Government to carry out censorship on its WeChat platform.

    Reddit users didn't take kindly to the potential investment

    Reddit is known as a platform for open discussion and free speech.

    Many users feared that Tencent's investment could lead to the censorship of Reddit outside of China, given the site is already blocked by the Chinese Government's internet firewall.

    So they took to posting — and up-voting — in protest. One of Reddit's most popular communities, r/pics, was the focus of much of the protest.

    This image of the Tiananmen Square protests is r/pics' most popular post of the last week, with more than 6,500 comments.

    Others posted images of Winnie the Pooh in reference to a 2017 ban that led to images, memes and gifs that compared Pooh to China's President Xi Jinping being removed from Chinese internet. Even the 2018 film Christopher Robin was banned in China because it featured Disney's beloved bear.

    Other posts called out China's treatment of both Muslims in its western region and Tibetan protesters. Some highlighted the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    So will Tencent censor Reddit?

    Neither Reddit nor Tencent have commented publicly on the funding round yet.

    But Tencent's potential investment would be a long way short of giving the Chinese tech giant a majority stake in Reddit.

    The website's majority stakeholder is American media company Advance Publications.

    Reddit has banned communities in the past, including subreddits devoted to conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon.

    The website's content policy states:

    "Reddit generally provides a lot of leeway in what content is acceptable."

    In Reddit's latest transparency report, the company said it received 23 requests from foreign governments to remove or restrict access to content in 2017.

    The requests came from India, Portugal, Russia and the United Kingdom.

    Reddit said it acted on 17 of those requests.

    "While some of these requests were not removed or restricted on a legal basis, several were removed for violating the terms of Reddit's content policy. Where appropriate, rather than removing a post outright, Reddit may make the post inaccessible in a particular country ("Geoblock")," the transparency report reads.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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