Monday, 18 February, 2019

China company's investment in Reddit sparks censorship worry

Screenshot of Reddit post Screenshot of Reddit post
Priscilla Morrison | 14 February, 2019, 07:13

The social discussion platform and news aggregation site Reddit has raised $300 million in a series D funding round led by China's tech giant, Tencent Holdings Ltd.

While Reddit is not now available in China, Tencent will have noticed the emergence of Bytedance - the company behind news aggregator Toutiao and short video platform Tik Tok - as a new rival on China's tech scene.

Reddit users protested, some posting pictures known to be banned in China, such as cartoon character "Winnie the Pooh". Tencent invested $150 million.

Founded in 2005 by two University of Virginia students, Reddit has continued to attract a loyal user base despite its relatively simple format, where users are invited to discuss just about any topic on more than 150,000 "sub-Reddit" forums.

Most analysts agree that it is unlikely Tencent or any other such investor would be able to control what content is posted on the site but that hasn't stopped a stream of memes and protest messages appearing in the past few days. Huffman said that Reddit was also trying to become "a friendly home for users and brands alike", which involved stepping up its fight against abuse on its platform.

The platform has 330 million active users and describes itself as the "Front Page of the Internet".

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The Chinese government uses a number of technical measures to block foreign Internet companies.

"Given that reddit just took a $150 million investment from a Chinese censorship powerhouse, I thought it would be nice to post this picture of "Tank Man" at Tienanmen [sic] Square before our new glorious overlords decide we can not post it anymore", wrote user FreeSpeechWarrior.

Tencent operates online games and popular WeChat social media service. Its last funding was on August 1, at a valuation of around $1.8 billion. Search terms such as "six four" - a reference to the date of the event 4 June and "never forget" when typed into Chinese search engines have not returned any results.

Users also often photos of Winnie The Pooh to poke fun of Chinese President Xi Jinping's appearance.

Steve Huffman, Reddit's co-founder and CEO, told CNBC that Tencent's investments in video games - a popular content category on Reddit - is part of what brought the companies together.

One post that reportedly shared the infamous image of a man stopping a tank in Tiananmen Square wa up-voted over 200,000 times.

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