Chinese tech empire Tencent recently invested $150 million in American social forum Reddit. Fearing oncoming censorship, the website’s users flooded the front page with pictures of Tiananmen Square’s Tank Man and Winnie the Pooh.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has said that Tencent’s involvement in video games was what primarily brought the two companies together. Gaming is one of the most popular subject matters on Reddit, whose user base is primarily made up of tech-savvy men in their early 20s. Through its investments, Tencent is the largest video game company in the world, owning or partially owning the world’s most popular games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Reddit has a notoriously outspoken community that is largely supportive of free speech and open communication. Like most large social platforms, Reddit is banned in China. Over the summer, Reddit users protested the repeal of net neutrality in the biggest campaign the site had ever seen. Given China’s long history of censorship, both online and off, it should come at no surprise that the community is angered with such a large Chinese investment to the site. Tencent’s largest social media platform, the Chinese superapp WeChat, has been plagued by government-imposed censorship, leading to many unhappy users.
Reddit is far from the only western social media platform that has gotten a large investment from Tencent. Snapchat, Spotify, Discord, Tesla, Kik, and more have received large investments from Tencent, whose extremely diverse holdings rank the company as the fifth most powerful brand in the world. This fifth place position outranks Facebook and is only beaten by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
In fairness, companies that Tencent have invested in have received little-to-no changes to their policies or structures. There is little chance that Tencent will be able to censor any platform that doesn’t fall directly under Chinese jurisdiction. With this in mind, it isn’t censorship that Reddit users should worry about, it’s data collection. Tencent makes billions of dollars from gathering user data across its hundreds of services, data that is sold to and profited from by the Chinese government. Having your data from nearly every major social media platform in the hands of the world’s most powerful oppressive government regime is certainly cause for concern. Don’t worry Redditors; you’ll be able to upload pictures of Tiananmen Square to the front page at your leisure. Just be careful about managing your personal information, as through Tencent’s growing tech empire there is a good chance it’ll land in the hands of the Chinese government.