The Chinese Communist Party is censoring pro-Hong Kong speech on its most popular social media app, WeChat.
That censorship extends to Chinese people living in America, according to The Verge. The outlet reported that after pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong won election in a landslide, Chinese Americans were unable to show their support using the app, even if they were using in it the U.S.
The Verge reported that Bin Xie had his account shut down after the Houston-area information security analyst wrote “The pro-China candidates totally lost” on WeChat. Xie told The Verge that he has since joined a WhatsApp group for Chinese Americans who have been censored on WeChat.
“If you have censorship in China — fine,” he told the outlet. “But in this country? I’m a Republican but on WeChat I suffer the same as Democrats [using WeChat]— we are all censored.”
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WeChat is owned by China’s Tencent and widely used within the country. Research by Citizen Lab suggests the company has implemented a dual system, with heavy censorship for Chinese users who use the sister app Weixin and less restrictive rules for foreigners. Because both versions are often referred to as WeChat, it’s plausible a WeChat user in the US might find themselves unexpectedly subject to Weixin’s censorship rules.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Tencent spokesperson said, “Tencent operates in a complex regulatory environment, both in China and elsewhere. Like any global company, a core tenant is that we comply with local laws and regulations in the markets where we operate.”
The Tencent spokesperson also told the outlet that WeChat and Weixin are separate and that since WeChat’s servers are not in China they are not subject to Chinese law.
“If you register with a Chinese mobile number (+86), you will be using Weixin, the version for Chinese users. If you register by any other method you will be using WeChat, the version for international users,” the spokesperson said. “Weixin and WeChat use different servers, with data stored in different locations. WeChat’s servers are outside of China and not subject to Chinese law, while Weixin’s servers are in China and subject to Chinese law.”
The explanation didn’t explain how users like Xie could have been censored on WeChat.
Another WeChat user who lives in Minnesota told The Verge that he codes his allegedly pro-Communist Party content so that users in China know what he’s really saying. He does this in part to protect his family, who still live in China.
China’s censorship, mass surveillance, and imprisonment of its own people has finally been noticed on an international scale. The internment camps detaining Muslim-minority populations are coming to light, as survivors have noted the rape, torture, and human experimentation taking place in the camps. Human Rights organizations have noted that the camps appear to be used to harvest organs from prisoners for China’s booming “transplant tourism” industry. Wealthy people from around the world can fly to China and buy an organ to have a transplant much quicker than in their home countries.