“The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin.”-Mothering Humanity
Continuing in the same vein as last week’s blog post on censorship within social media. I was surprised and alarmed to find that it’s not only private Facebook groups that are being moderated and their narratives steered. An entire application can be commandeered, its message dictated, and its users silenced. It happens in China, daily, and it’s happening right now with the coronavirus.
Various news agencies including BBC News, NPR, and the New York Times, as well as the internet watchdog The Citizen Lab from the University of Toronto, Canada have all reported on the oppressive and tyrannical actions taken by the Chinese Government to silence social dissent and unrest on social media, and most recently in regards to the coronavirus. Although it’s been hard for the government to keep up on the sheer mass of social media and government criticism as of late, it seems one of the country’s most popular social media apps, WeChat, is only getting better and better at its monitoring methods and its censorship tactics.
WeChat (also known as Weixin)–with 1.15 billion users–is an all-in-one, super-charged social media app that is hailed by some critics as the future of mobile app technology. In Mahoney and Tang’s book Strategic Social Media, they claim:
“It offers a wide range of functions from sending a baby photo to friends, getting news, text messaging, to finding a cab on the street. Weixin is more than a combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and eBay. Audiences can do almost anything via Weixin, which makes the platform particularly appealing.”
“Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy?”
One thing the book fails to mention in their glowing review of the app is the criticisms and backlash WeChat and its parent company Tencent has received for its cooperation with the Chinese Government to monitor and censor its users in an unethical way that infringes on individual freedoms and human rights.
Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy? China is a dictatorship, and they are not shy about it. If the popularity of this app spreads around the world (there are already thousands of international users) and becomes a mainstay in social media, what will we be agreeing to?
This is an application owned and operated under a communist dictatorship. Privacy and security laws there are much different from the protections I enjoy as a European Union resident, and as a frequent user of U.S.-based app technology. Until coming across WeChat and researching their background, I have to admit that I would hop on my app store and download an app without even taking these sorts of things into consideration. I can’t tell you how many times I breezed through a “user agreement” to accept it and just hit download.
The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin. If you want to read up on the type of word combinations WeChat specifically monitored and censored as part of the coronavirus, and how the Chinese government sought to spin their response to the pandemic in the news, I would highly recommend checking out the report from The Consumer Lab.
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up this sort of subject two weeks in a row, it is because I want to share my media literacy with you, so we can grow together as an online community. Media literacy is defined in Strategic Social Media as “the ability of users to critically access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms.” In other words, I’m becoming a more intelligent consumer of online information, so I can more effectively discuss powerful and note-worthy messages with you!
Looking forward to our future conversations…