WeChat’s emergence as a news-sharing tool has much to do with its reputation as a place where people can easily transmit sensitive content that can’t be seen elsewhere because of China’s tight news and Internet censorship. WeChat has proved to be an ideal environment for so-called “self-media”: news feeds on a wide variety of topics that are created, or at least collated by, individuals and small groups with no media organization to fund them — or censor them. This emerging environment was shaken Thursday by the sudden shutdown of dozens of WeChat news feeds, a move that many interpreted as an attempt to rein in the platform’s freewheeling spirit. (A Tencent spokesperson told Foreign Policy that the company was continually working to limit “spam, violent, pornographic and illegal content,” even though most of the targeted feeds focused on politics.)
The culling of so many accounts, melodramatically dubbed the “WeChat Massacre” by some Chinese media, was chilling — but it wasn’t fatal. By Friday, one of the blocked feeds, produced by corruption-busting reporter Luo Changping and with a following of 245,000 users, was already up and running again. More than anything, the crackdown and the immediate public outcry that followed — some netizens posted sobbing emoticons — underscored just how relevant and influential WeChat’s news-sharing function has become, and how hungry Chinese readers are for self-media.