Crackdown hits Tencent’s WeChat service

Chinese Internet giant Tencent has shut several accounts on its popular instant messaging platform WeChat, users said Friday, in what appeared to be part of a broader government crackdown on political content.

WeChat – known as “weixin” or micro-message in Chinese – has more than 300 million users in China and overseas, allowing them to send text, photos, videos and voice messages over mobile devices.

Accounts shut down included one for “Union of Elephants” which specialised in irreverent takes on current affairs, and “Consensus Net” which featured articles on topics such as democracy.

Chinese authorities maintain a huge surveillance network, including online, where the so-called Great Firewall of China blocks access to sites deemed sensitive and a vast censorship machine deletes content considered objectionable.

One WeChat user whose account was shut down, who asked not to be named, estimated more than 20 accounts were closed.

The accounts were suspended on Thursday without prior notice or follow-up explanation from Tencent, he said.

Tencent, owner of WeChat, could not be reached for comment on Friday. But a Tencent official said late Thursday that messages that violated Chinese law faced a crackdown.

“To guarantee user experience… the release of pornographic, violent, rumour-spreading information, and other types of information which violate laws, regulations and relevant policies are strictly prohibited,” Marsh Zhang, a publicity director at Tencent, said in a posting on his personal microblog.

“As soon as they are discovered, we will severely crack down and deal with them,” he said, but made no specific reference to accounts being closed.

Other affected accounts included those of Luo Changping – who blew the whistle on a corrupt government official while a journalist – and columnist Xu Danei, who also writes for the Chinese website of Britain’s Financial Times newspaper and domestic outlets.

Some pointed out online that the closures came on the final day of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, or legislature, while others linked them to rumours about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which had 153 Chinese passengers on board.

The crackdown mirrors similar action against another popular form of social media in China, microblogs or “weibo”, equivalents of Twitter, which have been hit by government tightening over both content and users.

After the move, Tencent’s Hong Kong-listed shares closed down just over 4% on Friday.

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Crackdown hits Tencent’s WeChat service