Post written by

Paul Armstrong and Yue Wang

The Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. has been in the crosshairs of regulators over content. (Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg)

China has long censored what people can read and watch online, but the increasingly heavy hand of the regulator threatens to disrupt growth in the country’s vibrant tech sector.

In the current campaign to “clean up” the country’s online space, Beijing hasn’t just focused on removing politically sensitive information. Authorities are now going after what they consider to be content that violates “core socialist values,” and these values include anything from patriotism to a positive lifestyle. To some of China’s most valuable tech companies — especially startups — this means risking alienating users by removing popular themes that have helped them grow large audiences in the first place. If the trend continues, some analysts believe the value of these companies will take a hit as user numbers start to fall off.

User Backlash

China’s Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo recently targeted content the authorities have put under the spotlight. The company last week said it would remove gay, pornographic and violent content during a three-month campaign. This triggered a storm of online protests under the quickly-deleted hashtag “I am gay,” as people criticized the company for discrimination. Weibo has now backed down, announcing on Monday through its official microblog that it will no longer remove gay-themed content during the current crackdown, without explaining further. It also reinstated the “I am gay” hashtag, which has been viewed 580 million times so far.

Product Shutdown

Other tech firms have also been requested to clean their sites up. Kuaishou, a Tencent-backed live-streaming platform with 100 million active users, and a valuation of $3 billion, has been removed from several Android app stores after state broadcaster CCTV criticized

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