The most censored Wechat topics: US-China trade war, Canadian arrest of Huawei CFO, ZTE sanctions, more

Wechatscope is a research project from the University of Hong Kong; they ingest every public status update on Wechat, the Chinese social network used by more than a billion people, then record which messages are later made unavailable, and infer from that the most censored topics on the network.

International scandals top the list — the US-Chinese trade war; the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities; US sanctions against ZTE — but the list is dominated by domestic scandals: #MeToo at Peking University, a string of corruption cases, business frauds, and the CRISPR twins.

It's a good reminder that Chinese internet censorship is a nuanced phenomenon, where certain kinds of unrest and scandal are tolerated (especially if they help root out corruption that does not implicate favored high-level officials), but anything that spills over into real-world demonstrations is stopped before it can get started.

Upon examining our full 2018 data set, the research team found that the scope of topics censored on WeChat has expanded from domestic policies and social unrest to less politically sensitive topics, in what seems to be an effort to support China's international political image as a "great power". The most sensitive topics of 2018 included:

China-US trade war

US sanctions against ZTE

The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei in Canada

The investigation of businessman Ye Jianming for economic crimes

Hongmao medicinal liquor scandal

#Metoo and sexual harassment allegations against a Peking University professor

Passenger-driver conflict in Chongqing

World's first genetically-edited baby

Changsheng vaccine scandal

Fan Bingbing tax fraud scandal

Censored on WeChat: A year of content removals on China's most powerful social media platform · Global Voices [Marcus Wang and Stella Fan/Global Voices]