After a week in which companies like the NBA and Blizzard Entertainment came under fire for silencing critics of China’s crackdown on protestors in Hong Kong, Riot Games has entered the current political fray with its efforts to quell tensions between Chinese investors and pro-Hong Kong gamers.
Citing the need for its users to refrain from speaking publicly about “sensitive topics” related to China, Riot’s Global Head of League of Legends Esports John Needham said in a message released online that the company now wants customers to back away from commenting on the current crisis in Hong Kong.
That move could alienate Riot customers who view the company’s silence on Chinese policy as a bridge too far in the debate over domestic censorship. In the last week alone, the Comedy Central series “South Park” was scrubbed from the Internet in China after the show criticized the willingness of American companies to bow to Chinese censorship efforts.
The NBA was also lambasted in the press this week after it forced one of its players to walk back public support for protestors in Hong Kong, and Blizzard Entertainment’s willingness to silence of one of its top users even prompted a walkout from company employees.
With its enormous population, China has long offered American companies the chance to enrich themselves at the trough of one of the planet’s most powerful economies. To do so, however, American companies must first be willing to toe the line on the Chinese government’s domestic policies. To court China’s communist regime, in other words, American entertainment companies must censor any negative discussion of Chinese society in their films.
To critics of these companies, the notion of accepting censorship directives from a foreign government is anathema. As images of brutal crackdowns on Hong Kong’s protestors make their way into American media circles, more and more people in the Untied States are beginning to question the ethical implications of silencing China’s critics.
But American companies will undoubtedly continue to try to walk a thin line with China’s current regime. With many American films breaking box office records due to distribution agreements with China, many stateside companies will undoubtedly be reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them.
How current tensions between the American public and the Chinese government will play out over the next year is anyone’s guess, but it is clear that many people in the US are already chafing at the thought of widespread domestic censorship. And while China continues to play hardball with some of the US’s biggest companies, American customers may soon grow tired of the status quo.