Few people will be surprised to learn most of China’s instant messaging services are currently under investigation. The government is investigating these social media networks for potential violations of the country’s cyber security law. The platforms affected include Weibo, WeChat, and Baidu, all three of which serve millions of users every single day. According to China’s Cyberspace Administration, all three platforms were used to spread obscenities and terror-related content.
Chinese Social Media Scrutinized
It is an open secret that the Chinese government does not like the local social media platforms. Social media would prevent censorship, were they not controlled by the government. Bypassing the Great Firewall of China is still very difficult, even though users have found some solutions every now and again. It appears some of these so-called breaches of conduct worry the Chinese Cyberspace Administration, as it has launched an investigation against Baidu, WeChat, and Weibo.
According to the information disclosed so far, all three companies are in violation of the country’s cyber security laws. Users were found to have distributed obscenities and terror-related material to the rest of the community. That is not allowed in the country, especially considering how tight a grip the state seeks to impose on social media. It is obvious the government has been successfully monitoring all of these networks for any activity that it considers out of line.
In a country where internet content is censored and access is routinely blocked, slipping through such disallowed content can have major repercussions. Various internet users across all three platforms have been accused of spreading violence, terror, pornography, and false rumors, among other things. Baidu already responded by stating it regretted the activity and intended to cooperate with government departments to bring this to an end. It also vowed to improve upon the intensity of auditing the platform moving forward.
This is yet another step by the Chinese government to keep social media on a very short leash. Considering that all three affected platforms serve hundreds of millions of users combined, they hold a powerful position within the country. Cooperating with government agencies is still in their best interest to avoid any major repercussions. Tencent, the parent company of both WeChat and Weibo, has yet to officially acknowledge the investigation and issue an official statement.
The bigger question is how this tight surveillance and censorship affects Chinese social media platforms as a whole. Most people know what they should and shouldn’t talk about to avoid trouble. However, dissent is very much present across all of these problems, and there is no way the government is capable of stopping all such communication. All it can hope to do is act after an incident has occurred, which puts them at a major disadvantage.
Though it does not appear that any users will be arrested in this case, China takes such violations of regulations quite seriously and would not hesitate to punish violators accordingly. Putting all three major social media platforms under official investigation will make them less appealing to the masses. As these companies continue to monitor content and provide information to police, censorship will seemingly be enforced once again.
China is already one of the most restrictive countries when it comes to internet freedom. Incidents like this one demonstrate that people wish to share a lot of information which is not officially allowed by the government. Censoring people even further will only make things worse over time. Considering how non-Chinese social media platforms are mostly blocked right now, Chinese internet users have few options at their disposal when it comes to social media in general. Rest assured that this is not the last time we will hear about social media censorship involving China.