WeChat is hot. With 846 million users globally, it has become the hub for Chinese digital life and news source among savvy mobile users in China and the overseas diaspora. But along with its rapidly rising popularity and influence comes the government’s growing censorship and its efforts to block the political sensitive information. However, despite the Chinese government’s iron-fisted control, powerful content that strikes a chord with readers can always find its way to reach the audience.
WeChat groups has increasingly become the preferred portal for China's "netizens" to discuss many issues including politics. With an audience base larger than other social media platforms and its ability to rapidly spread information, WeChat has raised the authorities’ eyebrows, and increasingly become the target for government’s censorship, with heavy restrictions on public account platforms that have the potential to reach a vast audience base.
As the Chinese government increasingly flexes its mussels, its censorship machine has grown in power and sophistication. Researchers at Citizen Lab at U of T has uncovered that the Chinese authorities use intelligence system to target messages touching sensitive topics, as well as posts using blacklisted keywords – including corruption, princeling, June 4, and Falun Gong. Newspaper accounts striving to push for greater press freedom, promote democracy system and challenge wrongdoings of Chinese government have been targeted by the censorship apparatus, with the articles being blocked or deleted.
In 2015, several WeChat accounts in China known for its political writing were shut down, with many of them from publications and local scholars who write about the nation’s politics. Some have published articles critical of China, and challenged government corruption and the nation’s one-party rule.
Overseas Chinese-language accounts have also been reached by the tentacles of the censorship. According to an earlier Citizen Lab research, 看中国, with its content often being very critical of Chinese politics, had 42 deleted posts among the 717 posts between Jun 2014 and Mar.2015.
因此，《大中报》（包括印刷版和096.ca网站）发表的那些宣传西方民主政治和推崇批评性新闻原则的政治评论文章遭到中国当局的严格审查并被禁止发表，无法通过《大中报》的“大中资讯号”微信公共账号传送给读者亦不足为奇。在这些文章中包括《中国加强传媒干预 恐惧氛围笼罩海外华媒》；《加拿大向沙特出售武器令大陆移民伤心》；《为什么<大中报>推崇“反叛新闻”精神》和《特鲁多对中国外交政策： 经济利益高于人权关注》。
Unsurprisingly, many articles published by Chinese News (including the print and 096.ca) – mostly political commentaries that promote Western democracy and embrace critical journalism were under the official scrutiny and denied publication, unable to see the light of day through Chinese News WeChat account “大中资讯号”. These articles include “Outspoken Chinese media outlet faces threat of financial backlash”; “Canada’s arms deal with Saudi hurts immigrants from rights violating countries”; “Chinese News believes in critical journalism”; “Trudeau Turns a Blind Eye to China’s Human Rights Record for its Economic Benefits”.
But there are always ways to get around authorities’ filtering and blocking. Many of the articles with powerful content have been disseminated through other WeChat functions such as private discussion groups, which the authorities allow freer reign.
“Strong and powerful content is distributed rapidly and effectively on WeChat, regardless if they were sent through public accounts or not,”says Jack Jia, publisher of Chinese News. “Theoretically, there is no way to block them!”
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