China cracks down on WhatsApp, others amid ‘perfect storm’ of political events

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China’s online censors have been tightly enforcing a variety of online and mobile services, which include live streams, mobile games and most recently Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

The crackdown is a result of a “perfect storm” of political news and a new cybersecurity law which went into effect last month, according to the New York Times. The crackdowns were mainly focused on domestic internet companies until the censors targeted and partially blocked WhatsApp, a popular messaging app used across the globe.

Censors have been cracking down especially hard since the death of Liu Xiaobo, an anti-government human rights activist who died of cancer after being in prison since 2009. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, and commemorations of Liu in real life and online have alarmed government censors.

Censors, for example, have blocked the candle emoji and the phrase “R.I.P.” on the popular microblogging site Weibo.

Liu’s death comes ahead of the 19th Party Congress, the largest political event in China, happening this fall. Every five years, the Communist Party decides who will take top government positions. Censors have been working hard to promote an image of stability

On top of political news, a new cybersecurity law passed earlier this year complicates the matter. The law demands domestic and foreign companies store their data in China and would impose security checks on certain industries.

The law, which went into effect in June, received criticism from foreign businesses as being too vague and giving domestic competitors an edge.

In its censorship cleanup, WhatsApp — which previously was left alone in China — was the latest casualty. WhatsApp users were unable to send videos, photos and some text messages.

Unlike WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are banned in China. Despite multiple overtures from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Chinese government has not allowed Facebook into its country.

Before WhatsApp’s crackdown, China targeted live streams, a fast-growing internet trend that’s estimated to become a $6.4 billion industry by 2020. The government demanded streamers to shut down their services until they get proper licenses to broadcast their videos.

Earlier this month, China’s government-run newspaper People’s Daily slammed the popular mobile game “Honour of Kings” as “poison” which needed to be tightly regulated. Tencent, the owner of “Honour of Kings” and the largest internet company in China, took a 4 percent hit in its stock price the day after.

Photo: The WhatsApp logo shown on a mobile phone. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/MCT archives)

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China cracks down on WhatsApp, others amid ‘perfect storm’ of political events