WeChat has been censoring messages about Coronavirus since January, according to research conducted by Citizen Labs.
Citizen Labs says the Chinese Super App “censored coronavirus related” citing that both critical and neutral information were not immune from censorship. The scope of the censored content was expanded last month with the following types of corona-related content being censored:
- criticism of government’s handling of the virus
- rumours and speculative information on the epidemic
- references to Dr. Li Wenliang
- neutral references to Chinese government efforts on handling the outbreak that had been reported on state media
Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention.
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The app censors content on the server-side meaning that “all the rules to perform censorship are on a remote server.” When a message is sent from one WeChat user to another, it passes through a server managed by Tencent (WeChat’s parent company) that detects if the message includes blacklisted keywords before a message is sent to the recipient.
The illustration above shows how users in China will only receive messages that haven’t been censored. Citizen Labs said they found over 500 such keyword combinations that were censored when they conducted their tests from 1 January to 15 February.