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China's instant messaging hits fresh state curbs

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A user of the WeChat messaging app plays the game "Brave enough to touch the tiger's butt?". The game examines the web of corruption around fallen Chinese official Zhou Yongkang, after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to tackle both "tigers and flies" in fighting graft.

A user of the WeChat messaging app plays the game "Brave enough to touch the tiger's butt?". The game examines the web of corruption around fallen Chinese official Zhou Yongkang, after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to tackle both "tigers and flies" in fighting graft. Photo: Bloomberg

Beijing: Chinese authorities have imposed fresh restrictions on the country’s mobile instant messaging services, including the hugely popular WeChat, in a move to curb unsanctioned political news and debate and “safeguard national security”.

The new rules apply to users with so-called public or official accounts, which are used by companies for marketing, but increasingly by bloggers and news aggregators who allow other users to subscribe to their feeds. Personal messages between individual users are not affected.

Many Chinese bloggers have been migrating to WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, after a wide-ranging crackdown on microblogging site Weibo – a broad equivalent to Twitter – had a stifling effect on political discussion. It also follows the creation of a new internet security committee, headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, as Beijing seeks to harness the web's economic potential while mitigating cybersecurity risks and maintaining the Communist Party's tight rein on the public dissemination of information.

The State Internet Information Office also confirmed on Thursday that they had been blocking two Korean-owned instant messaging services – Line and KakaoTalk – because of “anti-terrorism” concerns. Users have been unable to access those messaging services for weeks.

Other foreign-based social media websites and applications including Facebook and Twitter have long been blocked in mainland China, while users have also reported persistent difficulty accessing Google, Gmail and its related messaging services in recent months, providing mainland Chinese users few alternatives outside the Chinese proprietary messaging applications, which can be monitored by authorities.

WeChat, which is similar to the WhatsApp messaging service used more widely in English-speaking countries, has 396 million active users in China, of which 5.8 million accounts are public.

Tencent said it had deleted 400 public accounts and 3000 articles published by public accounts this year. It also closed 20 million accounts – about 5 per cent of total users – which were being used for prostitution.

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