The recent clampdown on expat social media and communication platforms has taken a massive hit with China’s latest censorship movement. The spreading news of WhatsApp being blocked has created an outpour of emotions online, with expats expressing their grievances over how they now have to officially access all their social media accounts with a VPN.
WhatsApp is one of the few foreign messaging apps available in mainland China. WhatsApp is not as popular as the local app WeChat, but it is favoured by some for its end-to-end encryption. WeChat, which is owned by tech giant Tencent, has been censoring messages deemed sensitive by Beijing without notifying its users. So, are only expats being targeted by China’s Red Capital?
The truth is, even Chinese locals face the same scrutiny from the ever elaborate Red Province. It has been reported by BEIJING (Reuters), that China's cyberspace authorities have ordered internet companies to close 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts in the latest series of crackdowns on independent media.
According to a post on the Beijing Cyberspace Administration's social media account, Website operators from some of China's biggest internet companies including Tencent and Baidu were told in a meeting they must take steps to control user accounts focusing on celebrity gossip.
"Websites must adopt effective measures to keep in check the problems of the embellishment of private sex scandals of celebrities, the hyping of ostentatious celebrity spending and entertainment, and catering to the poor taste of the public," the post said.
They must also "actively propagate core socialist values, and create an ever-more healthy environment for the mainstream public opinion", it added.
The Cyberspace Administration of China in May released regulations for online news portals and network providers, which extended restrictions on content and required all services to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff.
With the strides of action taking place to make changes, President Xi Jinping has surprisingly overseen a series of measures to clamp down on independent online media, while reasserting the ruling Communist Party's role in limiting and guiding online discussion. Show-business blogs and sites are very popular in China, especially those which regularly produce muckraking reports on celebrities' private lives.
In the meeting, the Beijing Cyberspace Administration told the internet companies that a new cyber security law that came into effect on June 1 requires websites to not harm the reputation or privacy of individuals. Companies must collect and record data on any site or account that breaks the cyber security laws and report it to authorities. Till date, it has been recorded that a whopping 60 different accounts were ordered closed, though many were duplicates run by the same individual or group.
"Now it seems the entertainment crowd can brazenly and shamelessly go about their shady business, the only one who could keep them in check has been blocked," one Weibo user said Zhuo Wei – a photographer who has exposed several extramarital affairs involving Chinese movie stars and who had 7.11 million followers, had also been shut down!
Popular mobile news apps Jinri Toutiao and Yidianzixun, and video site Youku were also told to shut down a number of accounts providing entertainment content.
Some applauded the government move, urging the authorities to close more similar accounts, as well as those dedicated to marketing celebrities. The coverage of celebrities on Weibo has led to less attention paid to serious social issues on the social media platform. Others, however, have lamented the closure of the accounts. “Now I can’t find a reason why I should be here,” one Weibo user joked, adding that he was worried about the platform’s future prosperity. Some said the crackdown will be ineffective. “They will simply apply for new accounts and return very soon,” one person wrote.
So Why WhatApp?
In a similar measure, China’s reasons to block WhatsApp do not stray beyond the expectations it holds for its general public. Furthermore, China’s interests stem to help promote more local services for mainstream use. Full censorship of WhatsApp would aid Chinese native WeChat’s business, which is already the more popular option in China. Native businesses have often benefited from Chinese censorship. Google leaving China did wonders for competing search engine Baidu, and Weibo prospered by the lack of other microblogging sites like Twitter.
Other reasons WhatsApp has been a target for closure is because the Chinese government does not like that WhatsApp uses strong encryption. The government wants to monitor internet communications, and therefore it`s trying to steer its people to use technology that can be accessed and monitored by the government. Earlier this month, WeChat notified users of its policies to comply with government requests for information, creating a level of transparency on information shared. Such transparency measures can also help track down illegal or dangerous activities that may be in the works such as Crimes, Human Trafficking, Illegal Trade, Acts of Violence, Terrorism, Drug Smuggling and Money Laundering, to name a few. These steps are therefore mainly set in place to help China pave its way towards a safer future for its people.
What is your taken on this new double-edged sword WhatsApp crackdown? Please leave your comments below!