Tencent investment in Reddit sparks censorship worry

SAN FRANCISCO • Social news website Reddit confirmed on Monday a new funding round that included a US$150 million (S$204 million) investment by Chinese technology behemoth Tencent, prompting concerns that "the front page of the Internet" might wind up censored.

San Francisco-based Reddit raised US$300 million at a US$3 billion valuation, with investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity, Sequoia and Tencent, the company's chief executive told CNBC.

The TechCrunch website reported the funding round last week, but that information was unconfirmed until now.

Reddit said it planned to use the money for international expansion and to enhance its digital advertising platform to better compete in a market where Facebook and Google now take in most of the revenue.

"We are the only company at our scale that is still a private company, so we have had a lot of investor attention in the last year," said Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman.

News of Tencent buying into the popular social news portal, which is banned in China, prompted concerns by some users that the platform could be vulnerable to the kind of online censorship that takes place in the Asian country.

Reddit users protested, some posting pictures known to be banned in China, such as cartoon character Winnie the Pooh.

A Pooh picture, voted to near the top of the Reddit homepage, had the caption: "Since Reddit took a US$150 million investment from Chinese censorship company Tencent, please welcome our leader President Xi."

  • $204m

  • The amount Tencent is investing in Reddit.

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

Reddit was co-founded by Mr Alexis Ohanian, husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams. Reddit is ranked among the most visited United States websites and has more than 138,000 "communities" for discussions on various topics.

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 years.

Reddit is also known for "ask me anything" sessions with well-known people such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former US president Barack Obama.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Tencent investment in Reddit sparks censorship worry'. Print Edition | Subscribe