China’s most popular messaging app has been censoring key words about the coronavirus outbreak as early as January 1, a report has found.
Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab found that WeChat, owned by Chinese firm Tencent, blocked combinations of keywords as the outbreak grew.
It’s not clear if the social media platform blocked these keyword combinations based on government directives – or if it was done of its own accord.
However, the report suggests that it could be the result of companies “over-censoring in order to avoid official reprimands”. The report adds that censorship in China works through a system of “self-discipline” where companies are held liable for content on their platforms.
WeChat was found to have censored 132 keyword combinations in January. As the outbreak continued, WeChat censored 384 new keywords between February 1 to 15.