Tencent’s stake in Reddit sparks worry about censorship

Chinese tech giant Tencent has invested 150 million US dollars in American online forum site Reddit, with the social news aggregator confirming Monday that it attracted 300 million USA dollars in a fundraising round that values the company at more than three billion US dollars.

Tencent usually targets overseas gaming companies for its investments, but recently it has started to bet on other social media platforms.

China has a strict internet censorship regime known as the Great Firewall and Reddit is among the sites it blocks.

The site boasts that, on average, more than 330 million people use it each month, contending that half of those users range in age from 18 to 24.

Founded in 2005 by two University of Virginia students, Reddit has continued to attract a loyal user base despite its relatively simple format, where users are invited to discuss just about any topic on more than 150,000 "sub-Reddit" forums. More popular content is surfaced to the top. Last week reports said that Tencent would be investing $150m (£115m) into the platform.

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Reddit has also actively worked to clean up the platform, once flooded with trolls and inappropriate content.

To protest the move and express fears of free speech challenges on the site, Reddit users posted images which are banned in China, including the iconic Tank Man images from the Tiananmen Square massacre and pictures of Winnie the Pooh. Search terms such as "six four" - a reference to the date of the event 4 June and "never forget" when typed into Chinese search engines have not returned any results.

Images of the storybook bear were reportedly banned online in China after bloggers used them to represent President Xi Jinping in posts.

Spokeswomen for Reddit and Tencent declined to comment on the outcry from users.

Reddit's CEO, Steve Huffman, told CNBC on Monday that values the privately held company at US$3 billion.

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