The Chinese government polices online content to monitor everything shared or discussed by its citizens, and has for a very long time. The communist country operates the world’s largest censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, which has blocked online content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and a host of other international web portals in the past.
WhatsApp — one of the world’s largest messaging apps — has become the latest target of the leadership that believes social media poses a threat to national security.
Thousands of WhatsApp users in China faced difficulties sending text-based messages, pictures and videos on the app. Apparently, users could only access those features when they used a VPN server, possibly pointing toward the fact the issue wasn't with Whatsapp, but with the government's infamous firewall.
"We realized that the servers that WhatsApp uses to exchange videos, photos and files were being blocked in the same way they would block Facebook, the BBC etc.," Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at a Paris-based startup, told CNNMoney.
More than 1 billion people use the messaging app over the world and an estimated 2 million users are from China. Although WeChat is also very popular in the country, the Chinese messaging app only has 490 million active users, as people concerned about their privacy prefer WhatsApp owing to its end-to-end encryption, which makes it really difficult for anyone except the sender and receiver to access a message.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government regularly monitors WeChat conversations.
“By blocking WhatsApp, the authorities have shut down one of the few remaining free and encrypted messaging apps but, more importantly, they have also limited the ability for Chinese to have private conversations with their peers,” a Chinese censorship researcher, known only by the pseudonym Charlie Smith, told The Guardian.
“While the internet freedom community continues to develop unique and innovative circumvention tools we are doing very little to fight the climate of fear that [President] Xi Jinping has manufactured in China,” he added.
The point of this cyber crackdown in one of the world’s most censored countries is apparently to safeguard Xi's second term in office.
The Chinese leadership has crossed all boundaries to maintain its grip on power with online censorship. Just last week, Beijing reportedly stepped up its crackdown on VPN services, a key tool used by Chinese citizens to get access to the unfiltered internet and keep themselves informed with everything around them.
Naturally, the dictating Chinese leaders don’t want them to stay informed. They don’t even want citizens to mourn over deceased leaders.
The disruption in WhatsApp reportedly took place after the death of jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. As people commemorated the leader on social media platforms, the Chinese censors tightened their online policing.
Images of famous Disney cartoon, Winnie the Pooh, were also recently banned from social media. Chinese bloggers reportedly drew comparisons of the country’s top leadership with the self-described "bear of very little brain."
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters