Further setback for Facebook as Beijing blocks WhatsApp

SHANGHAI • The last of Facebook's major products that still worked in China has been disrupted by the government, with Beijing broadly tightening its controls over the Internet. The product, WhatsApp, a messaging app used across the globe, was partly blocked by Chinese filters on Tuesday, leaving many unable to send videos and photos and some also unable to send text-based messages.

The disruption of WhatsApp was the latest in a long line of big digital services running up against China's "Great Firewall", the country's system of Internet filters and controls.

In recent weeks, the Beijing government has appeared to increase its grip with an online crackdown fed by a perfect storm of politically sensitive news, important events and a new cyber-security law that went into effect last month. The news environment has intensified the government's online scrutiny.

In recent weeks, the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo died in detention. A Chinese billionaire in the United States accused senior leaders of graft, using his platform on Twitter. And Hong Kong commemorated the 20th anniversary of its handover to China.

To complicate matters, the 19th Party Congress - where top leadership positions are determined - is just months away.

The Chinese government puts an increased emphasis on stability in the run-up to the event, which happens every five years, often leading to a tightening of Internet controls. WhatsApp, which had generally avoided major disruptions in China despite the full block of Facebook and Instagram, appears to have become a victim of those circumstances.

On Tuesday, China's top cyber authority also ordered the country's top tech firms to carry out "immediate cleaning and rectification" of their platforms to remove content deemed offensive to the Communist Party and the country's national image, it said yesterday.

The watchdog held a meeting with representatives from firms such as Tencent Holdings, Baidu and Sohu.com, on Tuesday where it gave them a list of specific errors, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement on social media. The violations include distorting Chinese history, spreading fake news, misinterpreting policy directives and failing to block content that subverts public stability.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Further setback for Facebook as Beijing blocks WhatsApp'. Print Edition | Subscribe