karendesuyo via Flickr

Chinese messaging app WeChat has sparked outrage after suddenly deleting LGBTQ+ dating accounts ran by students.

The widely popular Chinese dating platform WeChat is under fire after deleting after removing numerous LGBTQ+ accounts claiming they had broken regulation, Reuters reports.

WeChat’s move to take down accounts has internet users fearing greater targeting of LGBTQ+ content online.

Speaking to Reuters, members of the LGBTQ+ student groups said their accounts were first blocked and then all their content deleted.

The accounts in question are not able to be viewed on the dating app, however, Insider has reported users of Weibo (a Chinese micro-blogging site) were able to create a list of users impacted.

The list includes Peking University, National People’s University, Tsinghua Purple, and more.

Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry up until 2001, and same-sex relations were illegal until 1997. However, there are no laws offering direct protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

LGBTQ+ expression and freedoms are tightly monitored in the country. Last year, China’s biggest annual Pride celebration, Shanghai Pride, was shut down.

The sudden movement marked the “end of the rainbow” for the Pride event after running for 12 years.

“We are honoured and proud to have travelled this journey of raising awareness and promoting diversity for the LGBTQ community,” Shanghai Pride wrote.

Following The Cyberspace Administration of China’s crackdown on accounts, pages that were removed now show a message saying: “According to internet regulations, we have screened all content and suspended this account”.

Cathy, a manager of one of the deleted LGBTQ+ groups of a university in Beijing, spoke to CNN Business about having her account deleted.

“In recent years, our goal is to simply survive, to continue to be able to serve LGBT students and provide them with warmth. We basically don’t engage in any radical advocating anymore,” she said.

The student reflected on the shutting down of accounts: “Sexual minority groups have long existed in China, not because of any incitement from so-called foreign forces,” she said. “They do not understand [the LGBTQ+ community] at all, and have no intention to understand [us].”

WeChat is one of the most prominent dating apps in China and its action to block LGBTQ+ accounts limits LGBTQ+ people’s access to the wider community and advocacy groups and networks. Surveys suggest there are close to 70 million LGBTQ+ people in China.

Related: Cardiff student violently beaten in a suspected homophobic hate crime