Amid the controversial pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, WeChat reportedly prevents users from mainland China from viewing most images posted to the app’s ‘Moments’ by Hong Kong-based users. The ‘Moments’ section is a semi-public forum that is equivalent to News Feed in Facebook, where users can readily post messages to be seen by all their contacts.
According to reports, WeChat users within the mainland have been unable (for a week now) to view photos from accounts that are tied to mobile numbers in Hong Kong. However, messages that contain just plain text or even links without any picture or image could still be visible to mainland users. Images can also be sent through private chats.
Stricter online censorship in China
As of press time, Tencent Holdings Ltd, the owner and operator of the app, is yet to make any statement regarding such reports. WeChat is the most widely used instant messaging app in China. As of last year, the company disclosed that the app has over 400 million monthly active users. Of that figure, about 100 million are registered outside the mainland. The app is also logically popular to Chinese expatriates in other countries worldwide.
Some sources claimed that online censorship has been heavier since Hong Kong protests started creating buzz last weekend. According to reports, even photos that are not related to the protests from Hong Kong users could not be posted to WeChat by Hong Kong-based users.
Logical move for Beijing
Within the mainland, WeChat has reportedly started blocking users of most public accounts (that any app user can view) from sharing news items that mention the word ‘Hong Kong’ especially when combined with the words ‘democracy’ and ‘protest.’ Private users in the mainland could reportedly publish posts in ‘Moments’ regarding the protest but those messages could be quickly deleted without any notice.
According to analysts, such a move could be considered logical. They think that Beijing would naturally do what it can to prevent the buzz that is created by Hong Kong protesters from reaching the people within the mainland. This could be a way to prevent any possible uprising that may also take place outside Hong Kong. Meanwhile, within Hong Kong and China, this issue could be considered as too sensitive for public discussion.