Chinese tech giant Tencent reportedly plans to heavily invest in the social media website Reddit — which ironically is banned in China by the “Great Chinese Firewall,” which Tencent helped build.
Gizmodo reports that Chinese tech giant Tencent has plans to invest in yet another U.S. social media website. In late 2017, Tencent became the largest shareholder in Snap; another social media app which is heavily censored in China. Since then, Snap has shed 40 percent of its value making it a poor investment for the Chinese firm; so now Tencent has set its sights on a new U.S. social media website — Reddit.
Reddit plans to launch a new series D rounds of funding soon, with Tencent expected to invest the first $150 million in the so-called “frontpage of the internet.” Interestingly Reddit is banned in China, unable to bypass the countries “Great Chinese Firewall;” but even more interesting is the fact that Tencent is one of the key architects of the countries internet censorship system meaning that the tech firm has close ties with the Chinese government.
Given the fact that speech is the core product shared on Reddit, taking funding from a company which has worked to crack down on specific forms of speech is an interesting move. Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations commented on Reddit’s willingness to take money from Tencent stating: “It is representative of the strange bedfellows that the interaction of the U.S. and Chinese technology systems creates. There is much bringing them together—money, people, and ideas. And there are serious political forces pulling them apart.”
Reddit is completely blocked in China which would seem to make them an odd choice for Tencent to invest in; but Adrian Shahbaz, the research director for technology and democracy at Freedom House, explained how Chinese censorship works, stating: “I think there’s a widespread misunderstanding of how censorship works in China. We tend to think of the Great Firewall as this huge thing the state has built. In reality, it’s the companies in charge of weeding out unfavorable information online. There’s a whole host of regulations, one new law passed on average every two days, about what content can and cannot appear online. Then it falls to Chinese companies to comply with this widespread censorship regime set by the communist party itself.”
If Tencent does indeed invest an expected $150 million in Reddit on a valuation of nearly $3 billion, it will be extremely interesting to see what sort of effect that will have on Reddit as a social media website and the forms of speech allowed on the platform.
In an interview last year Reddit CEO Steve Huffman stated: “These days, I tend to say that we’re a place for open and honest conversations—‘open and honest’ meaning authentic, meaning messy, meaning the best and worst and realest and weirdest parts of humanity.” Time will tell whether or not Reddit, already known for its anti-Conservative bias, will stay so “open and honest.”