The ongoing U.S.-China trade fight, Washington’s sanctions against Chinese telecommunications company ZTE as well as the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou were among the “sensitive” topics censored on Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat platform in 2018.
That’s according to a report published Monday by WeChatscope, a team of researchers from The University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre that describes itself as a group aiming to “make censored articles of WeChat’s public accounts in China open access.”
The so-called “public” accounts are those created by organizations ranging from government institutions to private enterprises, producing what WeChatscope’s report termed “content similar to Facebook pages.”
Using a computer program built to visit published articles multiple times over a period to record their contents, WeChatscope tracked more than 4,000 public accounts that covered daily news. The posts were flagged as censored if the program detected that they had disappeared from the platform, the report said.
“By the end of 2018, a total of more than 1.04 million articles were included. Out of these, roughly 11,000 have been removed by the internet censorship system,” said the report’s authors, Marcus Wang and Stella Fan.
A representative for Tencent declined to provide comment for this story.
The report did, however, acknowledge that the system built by WeChatscope was unable to track posts that had already been censored by WeChat’s own system before they were published. The filter, they said, is based on a list of keywords “created and constantly updated by state censorship authorities, and then handed down to platform operators.”
WeChat is China’s most popular messaging app, with Tencent claiming a monthly user base of more than 1 billion people as of September 2018. While it started out as a messaging service, it has transformed into an app for everything from paying bills to hailing rides or even booking flights.