China Has Been Censoring Coronavirus Information for Months

Chinese social media app WeChat and live-streaming app YY have been censoring keywords related to the coronavirus since Dec. 31.

According to a study from Citizen Lab, a research body from the University of Toronto, doctors attempted to inform people about coronavirus through social media. However, Citizen Lab found that keywords translated as “Unknown Wuhan Pneumonia” and “Wuhan Seafood Market” were being censored on YY.

Censorship on YY is done on the client side, meaning certain keywords are censored from the device and updated over time like any other app update. Citizen Lab has been tracking these developments since 2015. WeChat, however, conducts censorship from its servers based on a combination of keywords.

In order to confirm that information was being censored, Citizen Lab set up scripted group chat conversations based on article headlines and text, and then sent them to WeChat accounts in Canada and China. In the tests, messages with the keywords “US Centers for Disease Control” and “coronavirus” were sent to the Canadian WeChat account, but did not make it to the Chinese account.

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