‘Front Page of the Internet’ Receives Censorship Giant’s Investment

Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Reddit, and Partner at Y Combinator, Alexis Ohanian (L) and co-editor at TechCrunch, Alexia Tsotsis appear onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 May 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Reddit, and Partner at Y Combinator, Alexis Ohanian (L) and co-editor at TechCrunch, Alexia Tsotsis appear onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 May 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
By Daniel Holl

Reddit will likely be receiving a $150 million investment from Chinese tech giant, Tencent, according to a Feb. 5 TechCrunch report.

Colloquially known as the “Frontpage of the Internet,” Reddit acts as a content sharing and rating website, used for entertainment, discussion, and news aggregation.

With 330 million monthly users, Reddit has been searching for investment this past month by promoting its recent growth figures. Tencent has answered to that search.

Tencent is one of the largest tech companies in China. It not only has holdings in many Western tech companies, but also contributes heavily to the Chinese regime’s censorship and surveillance on the Chinese internet.

‘Pony’ Ma Huateng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 03: ‘Pony’ Ma Huateng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd., speaks at a news conference on March 3, 2016 in Beijing, China. “Forbes” released in 2015 Forbes China rich list, “Pony” Ma Huateng ranked sixth with $ 16.1 billion. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Censorship Powerhouse

The most widely used messaging and social media app in China is WeChat, which is made by Tencent. Previous reports by Canadian think tank The Citizen Lab has analyzed the word and image filtering systems that Tencent has developed to censor out any messages sent or received on the app that are considered taboo topics by Chinese authorities. The app does not inform users that their content has been censored.

A PEN America report, released in March 2018, listed 80 instances of censorship and oppression against Chinese netizens. One man, an activist based in the region of Xinjiang where authorities have severely cracked down on the local Uyghur ethnicity, was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2016. Posts that he made on WeChat were used as evidence against him.

An advertisement for the WeChat social media platform owned by China’s Tencent company. (RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on August 21, 2017 shows a man walking at Hong Kong’s international airport past an advertisement for the WeChat social media platform owned by China’s Tencent company. / AFP PHOTO / Richard A. Brooks (Photo credit should read RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images)

WeChat has previously indirectly admitted to gathering user data for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through its privacy policy that must be accepted before use. The policy acknowledges that WeChat collects a whole range of data from its users, and to comply with “applicable laws or regulations,” would readily share them with the Chinese regime.

The CCP has a history of utilizing big data technology to collect massive amounts of information on citizens. Recent artificial intelligence developments that uses surveillance camera data to stop crime has even been met with some opposition by CCP officials, according to a recent South China Morning Post report.

A woman logging into WeChat. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman logging into WeChat. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

There is also irony to Tencent’s participation in Reddit’s funding, as the website, along with popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, are blocked by China’s Great Firewall.

While Tencent plays a key role in the Chinese regime’s censorship, Reddit has said it stands for free speech, even refusing to censor distasteful content.

A WeChat payment card for QRC scanning. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A WeChat payment card for QRC scanning. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Tencent has holdings in many Western companies, and fully owns several online gaming companies.

Some of Tencent’s investments include Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla; the popular messaging app Snapchat; and Discord, a voice-chat popular among online gamers. It also owns 40 percent of Epic Games, the makers behind the popular online game Fortnite.

Some Western developed games are fully owned by Tencent, such as League of Legends and Clash of Clans. The mobile version of popular multi-player game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is also developed by Tencent.

According to Alexa web rankings, Reddit is the 17th most popular website in the world. Tencent already owns the sixth most popular website in the world: the Chinese messaging service, qq.com.

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