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ED#167 : Big Brother China Censors WeChat... Again
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ED#167 : Big Brother China Censors WeChat... Again

Weixin, China's most popular mobile messaging services, has been on a tear since it was rebranded as WeChat and launched internationally in April 2012. This is mainly due to the aggressive efforts that its developer, Tencent, had undertaken to promot WeChat - from celebrity tie-ups with the likes of LeBron James, Lionel Messi and Vivienne Tam, to business links with companies like HTC, O'Briens and Secret Recipe.

Thanks to their relentless marketing, WeChat has grown from 100 million users in March 2012 to 300 million users, as of October 2013, with at least 100 million users outside of China. However, all that hardwork may have gone down the drain with the crackdown that has reportedly been ordered by Chinese authorities.

Last week, Tencent removed at least 40 WeChat public pages, allegedly at the behest of the Chinese government. Here is a partial list of those affected pages :

  • Observer (观察):
  • Poison Tongue’s Poison (毒舌的毒)
  • Political and Economic Observer (政经观察)
  • Blog Daily Online (博客日报网)
  • History and Culture Talk (历史文化杂谈)
  • Legal Readings (法律读品)
  • Truth Channel (真话频道)
  • Quanmeng [Reading Group] (泉蒙)
  • Recommended Reading (荐读)
  • Luo Changping (罗昌平)
  • Xueye Bimen [Banned Books] (雪夜闭门)
  • Teachingroom
  • China Onlooker (旁观中国)
  • Economic Bulletin (经济通)
  • Rule of Law New Observer (法治新观察)
  • Corporate Comment (公司评论)
  • Xu Danei’s Newsletter (徐达内小报)
  • Elephant Magazine (大象公会):
  • Consensus (共识网)
  • bigriver0052000
  • Foreign Powers (镜外势力)
  • Chinese History Daily (中国旧闻日报)
  • Phoenix We Media (凤凰微媒体):
  • Wuqin Takes the Wide View (吴庆看宏观)
  • World Chinese Weekly (世界华人周刊)
  • Hu Saimeng (胡赛萌)
  • Ran Family Biography (冉氏艺文志)
  • Xu Xin (徐昕)
  • China50Plus (人过五十网):
  • Youth Notes (青年手记)
  • Wheatfield Bookstore (麦田书坊):
  • Standpoint (观点)
  • Economics Observer (经济学观察)
  • Cloud Thinking (思想云): Online magazine, last weibo from September:
  • Know-Write (知著)
  • Reporter Station (记者站)
  • Beijing New Media Stories (北京新媒体故事)
  • Backyard Reporter (后院记者)
  • Utopia (乌有之乡): “Leftist” (Maoist, pro-Bo Xilai) blog shut down during height of the Bo Xilai scandal.

Those pages have been replaced with an "account-deleted" notice with WeChat claiming that those accounts have been "repeatedly reported" for "violation of the rules". The visitor is then advised to unsubscribe from the page. Tencent released a statement on Friday (14th of March, 2014) that they do "not allow practices that violate laws and regulations".

Of course, this isn't the first time WeChat has censored its pages for the Chinese government. Early in January 2013, they censored and banned words or Chinese characters that referred to the Southern Weekly, which had then called for "certain reforms and greater respect for constitutional rights".

This may sound like hyperbole, but this incident could well be the beginning of the end for WeChat as an international text and voice messaging service. The Chinese people may have no other decent options, but those of us outside the Great Firewall of China have a lot more choices. Better choices even.

Whatsapp is the obvious top dog when it comes to instant messages with 400 million active users, and now that Facebook has acquired it, it could mean greater integration with Facebook, and possibly faster and better development and marketing. But it's by no means the best instant messenger, just the most popular at this point in time.

There are many other players - Viber, Skype, LINE, and of course Apple's own iMessage. The security-conscious can even opt for BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) or Telegram, which incidentally allows for secret chats that use end-to-end encryption and can be set to "self-destruct" after a period of time. With so many excellent alternatives, why should anyone residing outside of China choose WeChat? More so when these alternatives have never been forced to censor or ban anyone because of their political beliefs.

Tencent has a choice to make. They can either cower to the demands of the Chinese government and resign themselves to the Chinese market, or they can grow some balls and move out of Shenzhen to where they are free to make the best decisions for their products and services.

Until they do that, we strongly suggest that you switch from WeChat to one of the many alternatives out there. These incidents prove that the Chinese government closely monitors WeChat traffic, and Tencent cooperates with them. It wouldn't be surprising if they actually have access to messages that pass through WeChat servers. Anyone who isn't comfortable with the idea of someone else reading their messages should stop using WeChat.

For our part, we are uninstalling our WeChat messengers, partly because there are better (and less annoying) instant messengers, and partly because we don't care for censorship. Join us in uninstalling WeChat, if you don't care for censorship either. China can keep their Instant Messenger of Much Insecurity.

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