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We found that keyword filtering is enabled on We Chat for users with accounts registered to mainland China phone numbers.

Filtering remains enabled even if users later link their account with a non-mainland China number, which means that users with accounts registered to mainland China will remain under censorship regardless if they travel or unlink their Chinese phone number from the account.

It is estimated that Chinese users spend a third of their mobile online time on We Chat and typically return to the app ten times a day or more.

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Popular Public Accounts that discuss current affairs and politics, such as the Consensus Website (共识网), Truth Channel (真话频道), Luo Changping (罗昌平), and Elephant Magazine (大象工会), were shut down overnight.

Tencent issued a statement explaining that it “strictly prohibits publishing pornographic, vulgar, violent, bloody, political rumors and any illegal content.” The company said the action was “part of the commitment to providing quality user experience on Weixin in China,” and that it would “continually review and take measures” on suspicious content.

Operating a chat application in China requires following laws and regulations on content control and monitoring.

Accordingly, the popularity of We Chat has also been met with suspicions of surveillance and media reports of censorship.

Differentiating content access based on user registration seemingly creates a “one app, two systems” model of censorship. When you send a message it passes through a remote server that contains rules for implementing censorship.

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