WeChat has reportedly been hard at work censoring keywords about the Coronavirus and the crisis surrounding it. The actions of the popular Chinese messaging app were discovered by the research group, Citizen Lab, who also says that the censorship had been happening since the beginning of the year.
The research group has allegedly determined WeChat’s actions via a set group chat conversations. Which were sent to three WeChat accounts based in Canada and China. From there, it would see which words would be removed or censored mid-transmission.
The end result, as you can see from the image below, is that the Chinese account simply doesn’t receive that large chunk of information pertaining to the virus, which is alarming in its own right.
At the start of January, WeChat was supposedly censoring 152 keywords related to the coronavirus. However, by the second week of February, the messaging app’s censorship list rose to 526 keywords.
On a side note, it’s not just WeChat that has been actively censoring keywords either. YY, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, was also discovered to have blacklisted 45 specific keywords about the Coronavirus.
Keywords that were specifically censored include factual information about the coronavirus, any reference to China’s epidemic policies, and Li Wenliang. The doctor turned whistleblower who first warned the world about the disease.
Wenliang passed away on 7 February after being infected and succumbing to the disease. Ultimately, his death led to a wave of anger from the Chinese population who felt that its government handled the situation poorly.
As pointed out by The Verge, it’s not clear why WeChat is doing this, but there is a possibility that its actions could be a direct order from the Chinese government itself. Given the close ties the two bodies have with each other. As it stands, the Chinese government actively uses WeChat and Twitter to hunt down people it deems to have shared “negative information” regarding the Coronavirus outbreak.
WeChat then finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place; the app has a monthly active user base of more than one billion users and is an integral part in their lives. User can, among other things, use the app to make payments or purchases. However, censoring keywords about the coronavirus could end up doing more harm than good.