Tencent’s “super app” WeChat is reportedly at it again: censoring content on behalf of the Chinese authorities. This time, WeChat is acting by censoring keywords related to the outbreak of coronavirus, writes the BBC.
WeChat, with its more than one billion users in China and services permeating most aspects of modern life – messaging, payments, and social media – has the reach and influence in society that can hardly be overestimated.
And in order to operate in China, it must toe the country’s internet censorship line.
In this case, the article says, citing a research group located outside of China, it’s not clear if WeChat acted on direct government orders, or was “over-censoring in order to avoid official reprimands.”
(Sadly, this practice, in one form and for on motive or another, is not limited to China.)
None of this is particularly new news – however, the report now purports to reveal some ways in which Beijing has gone about controlling the message when it comes to the outbreak of the disease, which is yet to be contained.
The report comes from Canada-based Citizen Lab researchers, who said WeChat started blocking criticism of China’s leader Xi Jinping, references, even neutral, to the official policy on dealing with coronavirus, and a total of 132 keyword combinations. This blacklist was implemented during the month of January, while the keyword combinations included the likes of “Local authorities + Epidemic + Central (government) + Cover up” and “Wuhan + Obviously + Virus + Human-to-human transmission.”
The name of Dr. Li Wenliang – who was among the first to inform the world about the disease, was cautioned for it by the police and ended up dying from coronavirus – features in 19 of these combinations.
If true, Citizen Lab’s findings show that censorship around coronavirus had started several weeks before China acknowledged the scale of the problem.
The country has been criticized for the way it handled the crisis, particularly for the lack of transparency concerning the true magnitude of the problem and in doing this failed to provide “timely information that could have saved lives.”
But that is not the only criticism China is now facing when it come to the way it is dealing with the crisis.
US Senator Josh Hawley said on Twitter that China’s Communist Party is “now denying coronavirus outbreak originated in China,” and referred to them as “a collection of incompetent thugs & liars.”