Date
30 May 2017
WeChat users know each other, so they're unlikely to refute any information they share. Photo: Bloomberg
WeChat users know each other, so they're unlikely to refute any information they share. Photo: Bloomberg

How WeChat is giving China censors some sleepless nights

Chinese censors are in a bind over WeChat, the Twitter-like instant message platform popular among netizens because of its potential to spread rumors.

They fear that unimpeded gossip on WeChat is harder to manage than those in other social media.

The Wall Street Journal is quoting Tang Xujun, director of the Institute of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), as saying rumors fed through the “hypermedia” ecosystem is difficult to refute.

WeChat, launched by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings in 2011, has 550 million monthly active user.

About 7 percent of online rumors last year were shared over WeChat compared with 59 percent over the Weibo microblogging service, which has 176 million active users a month.

However, WeChat presents a graver challenge to government censors because rumors spread on the mobile-messaging app are less likely to be refuted by users, according to CASS.

On WeChat, users typically have to be acquainted with each other, either directly or through group chats, before they can exchange messages.

Weibo, in contrast, functions like a virtual town square where posts are typically public, allowing strangers to interact and debate issues ranging from politics to popular culture.

Even so, both WeChat and Weibo are known to be monitored by government agencies, who have stepped into scrub content deemed to be politically sensitive, WSJ says.

Censorship on WeChat typically involves deletions of semi-public posts shared by users, rather than instant messages between users.

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