In yet another attempt to tighten its control on online media, China blocked WhatsApp ahead of the Communist Party meeting, which is scheduled for next month. This is a blow to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has been making efforts to enter China for a long time.
Since China blocked WhatsApp, users have been complaining about the disruption. Some users said that now it will be difficult to connect with their clients abroad. Nadim Kobeissi of Symbolic Software told The Verge that the Chinese government has been trying to block WhatsApp for quite some time, but configuring the existing firewall in a way that it can detect the heavily-encrypted WhatsApp traffic took some time. Now since China blocked WhatsApp, any service with a similar protocol is within reach of China, the expert said.
“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Kobeissi said.
According to Kobeissi, his company’s automated monitors caught some disruptions to the WhatsApp service in China on Wednesday, and by Monday, it was confirmed that the country has begun blocking the chat app. China uses its Great Firewall to block any online content, media or service its officials think could brew trouble going forward.
During the Communist Party Congress on October 18, President Xi Jinping is expected to be sworn as the party’s general secretary for a second five-year term. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about who will join him on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the party’s highest-ranking group, notes The New York Times.
In July, China blocked users of the domestic app Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like app, who were posting about Winnie the Pooh. Authorities also removed animal GIFs from WeChat because users were comparing Xi Jinping to the portly fictional bear, and posting pictures on Weibo might have irked officials, notes the Financial Times.
Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, stated, “Typically, in the run up to Party Congresses, we’ve seen blocking, filtering, restrictions on the internet, and that’s what we’ve been seeing in the last couple months.”
Segal said that squashing WhatsApp is part of a broader move by authorities to enhance the restrictions under President Xi Jinping. It is also not the first time WhatsApp has been blocked in China, but service was always restored later, notes CNN.
Just last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with Liu Yunshan, China’s propaganda chief, and posted pictures of his morning jog in China’s smog. Recently, there were reports that the U.S. firm has been looking to set up an office in Shanghai and is backing the Colourful Balloons photo-sharing app in China. Though Facebook never confirmed these reports, it did say that it has long been interested in China and are making efforts to understand and learn more about the country in whatever way possible.
Now that China blocked WhatsApp, a big question about those efforts has been raised. With WhatsApp blocked, Facebook is now completely out of the picture in China, as the social media giant’s main platform and its image-sharing app Instagram have already been blocked in the country.