What Happened: Tencent-owned WeChat has come under fire for silencing LGBT voices. CNN reports that the super app has deleted dozens of LGBT accounts run by students from prestigious Chinese universities such as Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Fudan University in Shanghai. The unexpected move sparked fear of a crackdown on gay rights at a time when a growing number of countries around the world are criminalizing homosexuality or finding ways to discriminate against LGBT. WeChat’s attack on gay student clubs could exacerbate the potential for abuse of LGBT rights in China and beyond. Moreover, the move could be seen by Western powers as yet another state-sponsored crackdown on civil liberties.
The Jing Take: WeChat’s clampdown triggered an array of angry responses on Chinese social media. “The era is regressing. China wasn’t like this 10 years ago. Gradually we’re losing all our freedoms,” said a comment on Weibo.
The public’s response is hardly surprising when you consider the changing social attitudes among Chinese citizens, especially younger individuals who have become far more accepting of LGBT rights. According to a 2020 study by Statista Research Department, 94 percent of LGBT individuals in China are younger than 34 years and 51 percent hold a bachelors or a higher degree.
LGBT consumers in China are a powerful demographic. China’s “pink” economy is worth approximately $300 billion to $500 billion annually, reaching 70 million consumers, according to Daxue Consulting and Reuters. They are young, educated, highly skilled, and boast high disposable income; thus, they represent the perfect luxury consumer. Given this, brands would be wise to take note of the LGBT community in China and try to position themselves as advocates for their rights. Global brands who want to tap into the market of LGBT consumers should move beyond Pride-themed ads and become real allies. For example: they could start by speaking up against abuses and move toward promoting a diversity and inclusion strategy (and not only in China).
As for tech giants like WeChat, they need to understand that when it comes to certain civil liberties, they can no longer silently follow the government’s direction. They need to stand for something or risk incurring lasting damage to their brand image. China is promoting itself globally as a developed, successful, and open country that follows international human rights law; thus, the Chinese public won’t turn against Beijing regarding this crackdown — but against WeChat.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.