Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service has been blocked in mainland China since Monday night, following a censorship clampdown by the government.
WhatsApp users in China reported experiencing difficulties in accessing the internet messaging app – they were unable to send and receive multimedia content but the app’s text messaging service appeared to be normal.
WhatsApp messaging service is used by a relatively smaller group in China compared to WeChat. WeChat is quite popular as a local app in mainland China and is deemed to be less monitored than its rival.
A source confirms that the Chinese authorities will not be able to monitor all communication on the internet which tracks blockages. Hence the authorities decided to block WhatsApp, which will drastically bring down the choices Chinese consumers have to send encrypted messages. With no option left, users will be forced to switch to WeChat, which does not support encrypted messages.
WeChat is a social media application developed by tech giant Tencent. The app is designed to censor messages that are considered to be sensitive by Beijing without notifying its users. Also, it is more open as people are asked to use their real names and does not encourage pseudonym.
WhatsApp users can send encrypted communications, while WeChat is unencrypted and is highly censored. This move is said to be part of the censorship master plan.
“A member of a non-governmental labour welfare group in Shenzhen, who did not wish to be named, told the Post he had been unable to use WhatsApp since 8am, but other apps on his phone, including WeChat, were fine. He regularly uses WhatsApp to communicate for work as the messages are encrypted. “WhatsApp is much safer than WeChat,” he said. “Today I didn’t talk to my colleagues at all. It’s very confusing.””
The government is busy making preparations for the 10th Communist Party Congress, which is said to be a politically sensitive event and is likely to consolidate President Xi Jinping’s authority. As a precautionary measure, Chinese authorities are closely monitoring social media and messaging platforms.
WhatsApp and Facebook remain silent and did not respond to requests for comment.