Wechat, or Wenxin as it’s called in Chinese, China’s hottest social media/messaging app right now, met the inevitable yesterday when a number of public accounts known for liberal political views were reported to be deleted without forewarning.
With its 271 million monthly active users globally, Wechat, which is only in existent for about 3 years, is THE most popular mobile app in China and a rising star on the global stage, too, after the Whatsapp buyout by Facebook. Its basic functions of text messaging, voice messaging and private group chat are similar to that of Whatsapp.
What adds to its popularity are the thousands of public accounts, through which any media, brand or individual can “broadcast” their views to their followers in a one-to-one way on a daily basis. These public accounts have given rise to a wave of “self-media” startups in China, much like the rise of blogs in the age of Web 1.0, but on a mobile platform and in a much private format.
It’s also these public accounts that are creating problems now. Since yesterday evening, visitors to a few very popular Wechat public accounts, such as that of media professional Luo Changping, mobile media Consensus Net and Elephant Managzine, found that these accounts have been deleted, without any warming in advance.
As currently shown on Wechat, these accounts have been “reported” being “inappropriate” and were thus closed down. They can no longer be accessed from the admin end, either, meaning that whatever information they had is lost for good.
Most of the deleted accounts are ones that cover political and social news, and are known for holding liberal political views. It’s a chill reminder for everyone of the “fall of Weibo.”
No one would question that the once top-gun social media platform in China, Weibo, is on the decline. Media headlines like “From Weibo to Wechat” aren’t uncommon to see in the past year. Many believe that heavy censorship and the crackdown on opinion leaders on Weibo is what makes people leave.
Wechat, at the same time, is “stealing” users from Weibo, partly because of the assumption that on an IM tool like Wechat, private conversations would be less likely to be exposed to “public scrutiny”, or censors. Apparently, the assumption is wrong.
“Don’t assume that Wechat is not monitored. A new crackdown is here…All that’s under the sky belongs to the Party. [The government] cannot find a plane, but it’s able to find out about all ‘sensitive’ conversations.” Commented media profession 吴飞.
Tencent, owner of Wechat, gave no official explanations so far as to why so many public accounts have been deleted at the same time. But Chinese netizens have no need for guesses. Popular netizen 五岳散人 commented: “Apparently, the government feels threatened by Wechat, a more private social media where it’s more difficult to control information flow.”
In an attempt to test which public accounts have been deleted, media professional Michael Anti sent out “test” messages, and one the responses he got back reads like this:
“There is nothing to test here. I’m a firm believer, deeply trusted by the Party and the government.”