WhatsApp, a highly popular messaging app used around the world, is currently the latest target by the Chinese government.
The country’s WhatsApp users are experiencing difficulties sending or receiving voice and graphics messages via the application.
Many political and social analysts have speculated that the crackdown on the widely used app could be a direct result of the recent death of Chinese literary critic and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
This app has more users in the country than any other messaging app. It also has an end-to-end encryption making it difficult for Chinese authorities to monitor communication among those who are using it.
Attempt to Prevent Commemoration of Xiaobo’s Death
Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and outspoken activist, succumbed to liver cancer earlier this month while he was lying in a heavily guarded hospital bed.
Unfortunately, some of the circumstances surrounding his fate remain unknown.
In fact, those who tried to express their condolences online saw all their posts blocked and deleted.
It is important to note that the young people of China do not know this public figure because of years of intense internet censorship.
In this case, internet censorship reached unprecedented levels. Weibo, a Twitter-like platform that is exclusive to China and very popular in the country, has experienced it.
More specifically, app users could not post messages with the words “RIP,” “Nobel,” or “Liver Cancer.” In fact, they could not even share a candle emoji on their timeline.
Moreover, the filtering occurred on private one-on-one chats as long as they mentioned anything to do with Xiaobo. WeChat, in particular, suffered from this ongoing censorship campaign.
WhatsApp Previously Unaffected by Censorship in China
WhatsApp usage in China lags behind that of WeChat, which is a Chinese company. However, many people in China prefer using WhatsApp over other apps because it offers them a certain level of privacy.
WhatsApp messages are usually encrypted, making it hard for surveillance agencies to sniff through them.
In contrast, the Chinese government usually monitors communication on WeChat.
Researchers on internet censorship in China say the government has managed to block the only free and secure app in the country.
By doing so, the government has denied the people of China the freedom to hold private conversations.
China is doing very little to overcome the fear of using the internet that President Xi Jinping had instilled in his people.
This kind of scenario is unfortunate despite the massive growth of unique communication tools in contemporary society.
It is worth noting that before the internet censorship of WhatsApp started earlier this month, it was the only messaging app owned by Facebook that was accessible in China.
Facebook has been blocked since 2009, in another internet censorship move by the Chinese government after ethnic riots broke out in the country.
Additionally, Instagram was banned in 2014 during pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The ban on these apps remains despite the efforts of Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to have them unblocked.
The other app affected by the internet censorship in the country is the Telegram messaging app, which was banned after it became popular with human rights lawyers in the country.
The Great Firewall
Many critics from various organizations worldwide have condemned internet censorship in China.
However, the regime has brushed off these critics. Instead, it has created world’s most sophisticated firewall known as “The Great Firewall.”
The purpose of this firewall is to filter and block internet-based applications in the country.
According to Nadim Kobeissi, a cryptography researcher, there is a high likelihood that the Chinese government was unable to circumvent WhatsApp’s text firewall.
The Chinese authorities say internet censorship in the country is important as social media platforms are a threat to the national security.
This has resulted in inaccessibility of sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter within the country.
Most people in China today have no choice but to stick to unencrypted messaging apps such as WeChat.
Other people and organizations within the country turn to virtual private networks (VPNs) to access banned applications. But doing so might not always be possible.