China: How Sharing Images of Freedom Protests on Social Media Blocks Health QR Codes
This is the exact technocratic, digital prison they want everywhere in the world. Examples of Chinese citizens begging for their accounts to be restored and apologising for insulting the government. Shocking.
On the popular Chinese social media platform, Weibo, hundreds of desperate users were writing “confession letters” this past week. They are urgent pleas from people who have been banned from the Tencent-owned super app WeChat – begging representatives to restore their accounts on a service that has become an almost indispensable part of life in China.
“I have been in a terrible mental state due to the massive pressure from recent pandemic prevention measures. I lost my control, and sent sensitive statements in a group chat with six people,” one user wrote. “I have profoundly realised my mistake. I hope Tencent can give me a chance to start with a clean slate. I won’t let down the party and the country.” The message was posted with a special hashtag for “Tencent Customer Service.”
Messages like this, which surged on Thursday, vary in substance but share urgent pleas from users who have been banned from the Tencent-owned super app WeChat – begging company representatives to restore their social accounts on a service that has become an almost indispensable part of life in China. While the hashtags themselves aren’t new, they were flooded late in the week after WeChat reportedly banned a large number of users. Those affected believe it was because they had discussed a rare political protest in Beijing ahead of the historic 20th Communist Party Congress, which started on Sunday.
It all started on Thursday afternoon, two days before the high-profile Communist Party Congress. when a protester hung banners on an overpass in the capital city that called for removing pandemic control measures and instating democratic reforms. “Say no to Covid test, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom,” part of one banner reads. “Go on strike, remove the dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping,” reads another.
WION: China censors Beijing from social media, banners calling the President a dictator go viral online, 15 October 2022
The timing right before the party congress – as well as the highly sensitive act of mentioning the name of the Chinese president, who was expected to clinch an unprecedented third term at the meeting – has made discussion of the event tightly censored on Chinese social media.
On Weibo, any user content that includes words like “Beijing,” “bridge,” and “brave” are restricted from being searched. Apple Music’s Chinese version removed a song named “Sitong Bridge,” presumably only because the name refers to the place where the protest happened.
This censorship extends to WeChat, the dominant messaging app with over 1.2 billion global users, the majority of whom live in China. Users soon realised that just posting a picture of the event, even in a private group chat, could cause their accounts to be permanently banned.
Being banned from WeChat isn’t exactly a trivial matter. It has a significant practical impact on individuals, as they are now blocked from using the many digital services tied to their accounts, from health QR codes to online subscriptions. It takes days, if not weeks, to re-establish their digital connections with a new account. By holding people’s access to digital services hostage, the government was able to obstruct the spread of information and increase its control.
The mass suspension also has an effect on society as a whole: the latest example of how swiftly China’s censorship machine works to silence dissent will only further chill these voices in the future. Protests like the latest one are already rare in China today, and many people won’t ever learn it happened.