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Coronavirus: Chinese apps censored coronavirus related content

WeChat censoring coronavirus content

The massive coronavirus outbreak is worrisome for everyone. As of today,
over 100 countries and territories have active coronavirus cases. Coronavirus has infected more than 100 000 people around the world, most of whom are from China. China is battling the coronavirus outbreak since January 2019. However, while the country is trying hard to quarantine coronavirus, it is also trying hard to quarantine the truth.

The country is known for its control over the internet and social media. Many websites are not available for Chinese citizens, such as Google and Wikipedia. Apart from it, Chinese social media apps are blocking certain topics more often than they would like to admit. It is surprising to no one that Chinese social media apps are trying to block topics around coronavirus too.

How it all started

The Coronavirus outbreak started from the city of Wuhan, China and started spreading quickly. However, the government notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the new virus outbreak only on 31st December.

Since then, the world fights misinformation about coronavirus. Countries and organizations are trying to provide verified information about the risks, safety tips and news about covid-19. However, China seems to be doing the opposite.

The Toronto-based research group, named Citizen lab found that Chinese apps have been blocking coronavirus topics and related keywords since the first outbreak. As the report suggests, China started censuring coronavirus topics long before the government recognized the severity of the outbreak.

The government was under-reporting the number of people that were infected. Withholding the important information about coronavirus, failing to provide timely updates and information that could probably prevent many deaths.

Since the information spreads quickly on the internet, China started monitoring what the citizens are reading and posting online. The report states that the biggest social media apps in China started blocking certain keywords related to coronavirus. Trying to stop people from talking about coronavirus and the real situation in China.

Which Chinese apps have censored coronavirus keywords and topics? 

As the report states, WeChat started blacklisting coronavirus keywords as early as 1st January. At first, it blocked several keywords but as time went the outbreak grew the app blocked more and more. From 1 to 31 January WeChat censored 132 keywords. From 1 to 15 February the app blocked 384 more keywords. It made it almost impossible for Chinese citizens to state their opinion about the ongoing outbreak, receive and send information thought the WeChat platform.

Apart from censoring topics about coronavirus, WeChat also started suspending and disabling personal accounts of some people. Some of them received a notification that their account was suspended for spreading rumours. While some users did not get any explanations at all. Chinese citizens started posting about WeChat suspending their accounts on another Chinese platform Weibo.

Soon enough, Weibo removed the page where people were posting complaints about WeChat. The platform has also been removing content about coronavirus that criticized the government.

Another platform that blocked coronavirus keywords is YY a live-streaming website. The website started blocking keywords before the new virus was classified. On 31 December YY added up to 45 keywords. The blocked keywords made references to the virus that was not identified yet. They included the terms like “SARS outbreak in Wuhan,” and “Unknown Wuhan pneumonia.” Blacklisted keywords also include the ones that refer to the government leaders and their policies on handling coronavirus epidemic.

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