China practices some of the most complex censorship techniques in the world. It is hard to understand that how their censorship tools really work; it is still not clear when and how the material is censored. Citizen Lab, a research group analyzing human rights and global security, revealed some details Chinese censorship, particularly focusing on mobile messaging.

Citizen Lab searched the methodology followed by the Chinese government to censor chats and discussions made on WeChat, which is a famous messaging app. WeChat has versatile uses like banking, paying off bills, booking holidays and calling cabs. It has around 768 million active users, which makes it world’s fourth biggest messaging service.

WeChat's censorship in China
WeChat’s censorship in China

Citizen Lab found that the censorship does not only search for the phrases like human rights, “mass arrest“, and “spiritual freedom” in order to block messages but also finds the combination of different terms. For example, no action is taken if a message contains words “human rights lawyer” in it, but if the same phrase has the name of a specific lawyer who was moved out by the government- the text is blocked instantly.

When a message reaches the servers of WeChat, it is analyzed and filtering is done. The sender is not notified of the fact that his text has been filtered and is able to see that text as sent message but it is not received at the other end. Mobile phone numbers are also registered in the Chinese mainland. Citizen Lab reports that the censorship is mainly focused around “709 Crackdown” which is a series of arrests against civil dissenters that began on the 9th of July 2015 (hence the name).

Censorship is Stricter

According to Citizen Lab, keywords in group chats were blocked more often than one-on-one chats. The censorship is stricter in the case of stickers. The WeChat moments are also censored and images are filtered. The Chinese government does not allow the discussion of controversial issues.