WeChat

The Chinese Messenger service WeChat censors large-scale chats with delicate political content. This is what researchers at the University of Toronto have found out.

Censorship of online services: The popular Chinese messenger app WeChat filters messages on accounts with Chinese phone numbers according to politically delicate key words and censors group chats. Even if a user leaves and moves to a foreign number, the censorship continues, the researchers at Citizen Lab found at the University of Toronto. Blocked chat messages now disappear secretly, without the sender being informed as before about the censorship, as is apparent from the Friday results.

With 806 million monthly users, WeChat is the fourth largest messenger app in the world and the most popular chat program in China. The platform is deeper than others in all billions of people’s lives, as it offers widespread payment systems, shopping, information, taxi services and travel services in China. Chinese users spend a third of their mobile online time on WeChat, owned by the big Chinese technology company Tencent.

For the report entitled “One App, Two Systems”, the researchers at Citizen Lab tested 26 821 sensitive keywords about WeChat accounts in China, Canada and the USA. 174 of them triggered the censorship. It was mostly about the bloody suppression of the democratic movement on 4 June 1989, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the Falun Gong movement forbidden in China, or motives with jokes or criticism of Chinese leaders.

“There is extensive censorship on WeChat, but divided across different dimensions,” commented Ronald Deibert, Director of Citizen Lab. By now being censored and the hint that a message “contains locked words”, WeChat also slides “deeper into a dark hole” because it does not give its users any accountability about its censorship.