WECHAT has been censoring content on Coronavirus between January and February 2020. The content included criticism of the Chinese government, speculative and factual information related to the epidemic, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts to handle the outbreak-a study by The Citizen Lab revealed.
WeChat is a Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Tencent. It is the most popular messaging app in China with over one billion monthly active users,
The study revealed that, “because of social media’s integral role in Chinese society and its uptake by the Chinese medical community, systematic blocking of general communication on social media related to disease information and prevention risks substantially harming the ability of the public to share information that may be essential to their health and safety.”
- YY, a live-streaming platform in China, began to censor keywords related to the coronavirus outbreak on December 31, 2019, a day after doctors (including the late Dr. Li Wenliang) tried to warn the public about the then unknown virus.
- WeChat broadly censored coronavirus-related content (including critical and neutral information) and expanded the scope of censorship in February 2020. Censored content included criticism of government, rumours and speculative information on the epidemic, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts on handling the outbreak that had been reported on state media.
- Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention.
The study also states that the Chinese government briefings and media reports show that the authorities delayed releasing information on the epidemic to the public.
“On Feb 5, 2020, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the top-level Internet governance agency in China, issued a public statement stressing that it would punish “websites, platforms, and accounts” for publishing “harmful” content and “spreading fear” related to COVID-19.”
The CAC singled out Sina Weibo, Tencent, and ByteDance in the statement, saying that it would carry out “thematic inspection” of their platforms.
“When eight individuals (at least two of which were medical experts) tried to warn the public of the then mysterious outbreak on December 30, 2019, they were silenced and punished by local authorities in Wuhan for ‘spreading rumours’ and ‘disturbing social order.”
The organisation behind the study-The Citizen Lab-is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, focusing on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security.