Date
14 October 2019
It is suspected that some discussion groups on the Douban platform have become too enthusiastic about their political views. Photo: Douban
It is suspected that some discussion groups on the Douban platform have become too enthusiastic about their political views. Photo: Douban

Why popular book and movie review website Douban got suspended

Douban, China’s fifth most popular social media platform, was virtually shut down over the weekend.

The website is mainly for reviewing books and movies, but users also share photos and post messages on the platform.

Douban was founded by Yang Bo, more popularly known as Ah Bei, in 2005.

Many consider Yang a genius. After studying at Qinghua University and University of California, he created Douban, which he intended for people who want to share their thoughts. Compared with mass-market platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, Douban tends to be more intellectual in content.

Douban has not been aggressive in monetizing its large user base, and advertising on the platform is sparse.

Nor is the startup active in raising funds. Douban has only done three rounds of fundraising so far, with the last deal completed in 2011. In that round, the firm raised US$50 million from Sequoia Capital and Bertelsmann.

The platform has more than 300 million monthly active users, many of whom are highly-educated young people. As such, Douban is considered to have great commercial potential.

Industry watchers believe that if the company is put up for sale, internet czars like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu would certainly have strong interest. Its value was once estimated to be no less than 100 billion yuan (US$14 billion).

Over the weekend, users were shocked to learn that the website had suspended its “broadcast” function, which is similar to Facebook’s News Feed. In theory, users can still post on the website, but they can’t interact with others in the community.

That’s the first time Douban has suspended its core function.

It is suspected that some discussion groups on the platform have become too enthusiastic about their political views.

Some users, for example, have suggested that China’s Communist Party should amend the constitution and let President Xi Jinping stay in power forever. The subject has sparked widespread discussion.

Such politically-sensitive topics are taboo in China, and authorities probably thought that public debate on such issues was better avoided. Hence, the freeze on the “broadcast” function.

It remains to be seen how things will unfold and whether the suspension will have a long-term impact on the platform. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 9

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist