There’s no question that China is a nation of rampant government surveillance. However, what you may not be aware of is that you are currently being watched if you are a WeChat user.
In an era of countless social media applications, it’s normal to download whatever application is popular for communication without considering the ‘Terms and Conditions.’
So what’s the big deal with WeChat?
It’s important to understand the history of WeChat in order to understand how it got to where it is today.
Here’s a brief history of the company:
- January 2011 — Chinese company, ‘Tencent,’ debuts the messaging app (original name: Weixin).
- June 2014 — WeChat overtakes SMS as the predominant messaging app in China.
- May 2017 — WeChat ‘captures 30 per cent of [all] China’s mobile app usage.’
- December 2018 — WeChat reaches 1 billion users worldwide (Including 2.5 million Australians).
Various reports show that Beijing is attempting to make WeChat China’s official electronic ID system.
According to The Verge:
The pilot program began at the end of December, and it expanded across the country in January. The program was developed by the research institute of the Ministry of Public Security and Tencent’s WeChat team and is backed by banks and other government departments, including the China Construction Bank and the Guangzhou police station’s Nansha District branch.
How did WeChat get so big?
There are two main reasons for WeChat’s exponential rise:
1. Banning of other platforms — Virtually all other social media platforms are banned in China (see below). Government-censorship paved the way for WeChat’s prominence and domination.
2. Government-Control — Like all Chinese social media applications, WeChat is essentially a government-controlled and operated platform. Although the company is privately owned, it has been ‘subsidized by the government since its creation in 2011.’
Why should we be concerned?
Well, as Liang Chen from Oxford University argues:
[The] WeChat platform is important as a powerful weapon of the government’s fight on the main battlefield of ideology.
Beijing understands that ideas matter, and so they are doing everything they can to combat any worldview that challenges its communist reign.
Just read this excerpt from WeChat’s ‘Terms and Conditions’:
Essentially, WeChat prohibits you from:
1. Sharing any information or messages that are critical of the Chinese government’s socialist system. This includes messages that ‘destroy national unity’ — a condition that could include virtually any non-communist perspective.
2. Using WeChat as a platform to share the Gospel or other religious messages.
3. Organise religious gatherings, including house churches.
On this note, there’s no wonder WeChat scored a 0/100 on Amnesty International’s ‘Freedom of Speech’ rating.
As Freedom House explains:
The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, government agencies, and private companies employ hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to monitor, censor, and manipulate online content. Material on a range of issues is systematically censored, with the most censored topics in 2017 involving breaking news related to health and safety, media censorship, official wrongdoing, foreign affairs, the reputation of the party or officials, or civil society activism.”
As part of this mission, China aims to roll out its ‘Social Credit Rating System’ by the year 2020. This system essentially rates its citizens based on their behaviour online, in public (using over 200 million CCTV cameras), and in private.
It’s clear — WeChat is one of Beijing’s primary instruments used to track and monitor its citizens. And the scariest thing is, you may be aiding China in achieving this goal by using the application.
What was once only found in Orwellian fiction is now playing out before our very eyes.