Chinese technology giant Tencent’s WeChat social media platform deleted dozens of LGBT accounts run by college students, claiming that some of them violated Internet information rules, raising concerns about cracking down on online gay content.

Members of several LGBT groups told Reuters that their accounts were blocked from access later on Tuesday, and they later discovered that all their content had been deleted.

“Many of us have suffered at the same time,” said a group account manager, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“They reviewed us without warning. All of us were wiped out.”

When Reuters tried to access some accounts, WeChat issued a notice stating that these groups “violated China’s Internet account management regulations for providing public information services.”

Other accounts did not appear in the search results.

WeChat did not immediately respond to the question sent via email.

Although homosexuality, which was classified as a mental disorder before 2001, was legal in China, same-sex marriage was not recognized. Social stigma and pressure still prevent people from coming out.

This year, the court upheld a university’s ruling describing homosexuality as a “mental disorder” and ruled that this was not a factual error.

The LGBT community has repeatedly found itself under censorship, and China’s Cyberspace Administration of China recently pledged to clean up the Internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups deemed “bad influence”.

The Weibo social media platform under Weibo sometimes removes lesbian content, and Zhihu, an online community forum platform, also censors topics about gender and identity.

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Last year, China’s only Pride festival was cancelled indefinitely after organizers mentioned concerns about employee safety.

“The authorities have been tightening the space provided for LGBT advocacy and civil society. This is another screw,” said Darius Longarino, a senior researcher at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, who focuses on LGBT rights and gender equality.

© Thomson Reuters 2021