WeChat has stepped up its efforts to censor user accounts that deal with content related to cryptocurrencies and market analysis.
Now the messaging app has blocked an official account of bitcoin mining giant Bitmain, ostensibly for violating the messaging app’s terms and conditions.
News about the censorship against Bitmain’s WeChat ID “antminersale” first surfaced on Monday.
Access to information on the account was blocked, including any of the previous content relating to Bitmain sales. Searching for content about Bitmain led visitors to a page that had a notice suggesting that the account had violated WeChat rules.
Visitors were redirected to a new page that had this message:
“Following users’ complaints, the platform [WeChat] has reviewed and discovered that this account – without having acquired authorized credentials or licenses – has been publishing and distributing information of relevant businesses it is involved in.”
Bitmain is the world’s leading cryptocurrency mining hardware maker and the move to ban its account on China’s top social media platform has attracted a lot of attention.
Even though the mining giant has yet to make an official statement on the matter, it has emerged that a different account managed by the firm is still active on WeChat.
The antminer-official account provides information about mining equipment and related products, and it’s not entirely dedicated to Bitmain sales.
The crackdown on Bitmain isn’t the first time WeChat has moved to block accounts that provide information related to cryptocurrency.
The messaging app, owned by tech giant Tencent, has a well-documented past involving censorship of user accounts.
WeChat is itself under constant monitoring by the Chinese authorities and this is part of the reason it has come down heavily on accounts suspected to be flouting its T&C’s.
Users accuse WeChat of sharing personal data
In August, the platform blocked several accounts that it said published and circulated content relating to cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings (ICOs), contravening regulatory directives. Baidu, a search engine giant, followed suit with its own censorship.
At the time, it was as if it was all about the china crypto ban initiative.
The Cyberspace Administration of China and Tencent –WeChat’s parent company- released a statement explaining the rationale for the ban that ended up affecting more than 30 crypto-related media accounts.
It appeared that the crackdown was part of the government’s efforts to enforce its earlier ban on cryptocurrency trading as well as on any other activity related to initial coin offerings.
The reason for the ban has variously been said to hinge on the need to safeguard the public against activities that pose financial threats and risks.
As a result of Tencent’s statement, users continue to accuse WeChat of sharing its users’ personal data with the Chinese authorities.
Tencent may be trying to stay on the right side of the bans imposed by the government and has not hidden the fact that it does share user information.
“We share your information with selected recipients who have a legal basis and valid jurisdiction to request such data.”
The policy advises users that their personal data can be handed over to the government, regulators and other law enforcement agencies whenever they are called upon to comply with given laws or regulations.
The effects of sharing user information with the government have been felt in the country before. For instance, the Chinese authorities have previously admitted to using WeChat to apprehend and convict some of its citizens for crimes.
The authorities collect and monitor deleted messages from the platform and then use them to pursue users accused of committing criminal acts.
Some have ended up being highly contentious arrests- the much publicized and highly criticized arrest of a construction worker for cracking a joke about a politician- is one such example.
It is, therefore, deducible that the messaging app is under heavy pressure from the authorities. The government has also faced accusations from activists who decry interception of messages and forced censorship against any image considered to be sensitive
Price prediction accounts banned
The crackdown on accounts that publish cryptocurrency content has also spread to encompass price analysts. For example, Goldcoins, an account that offers content on crypto prices and analyses the market, is among those to be blocked.
WeChat has moved to ban Goldcoins despite the fact that it has given analyses and published content related to crypto assets for the last nine months. All the while, it remained online.
The outlet confirmed that WeChat had banned its account via a statement on Zhihu, one of the numerous Chinese social networking sites.
Another account to suffer the same fate as Goldcoins belongs to blockchain startup Delphy. It is an Ethereum-based blockchain application that has a similar functionality to Augur. WeChat reportedly banned Delphy’s official account on Monday.
Just like in the case of Bitmain and all the other bans effected in August, WeChat sought to justify each with the same notice stating that the accounts were in violation of its terms of service.
China was among the very first countries to ban crypto trading and ICOs in September 2017. The current trend can, therefore, be taken to be a continuation of those efforts.
Whether it is the government or Tencent’s efforts, it is clear that crypto trading and the ICO landscape are two aspects of cryptocurrency that currently face a lot of scrutiny in China.
WeChat’s dominance in China
Tencent first released WeChat on January 21, 2011, and has gained exponential growth to hit over 1 billion monthly active users. It basically rules in China and almost everyone has an account.
However, over the years, attempts to launch serious competitors have failed to dislodge it. A new platform that boldly tried to upstage WeChat is Bullet.
The new app by developer Smartisan hit the top of the download charts on iOS App Store on August 24. But that seems to be it could do as it has dropped massively to rank at 72nd just a couple of weeks later.
Now Smartisan CEO Luo Yonghao says the company has taken note. He has promised that the firm will invest $146 million to bring on board 100 million new users in six months.
That may be a big jump, but will it be enough to dislodge WeChat’s dominance with 1 billion active users? It is highly unlikely it will happen in the near future.