WeChat users are begging Tencent to restore their accounts after a Beijing protest
What most of the posts share is a sense of despair. Since WeChat has become a super app used in almost every aspect of life, getting your main account banned can be very dangerous. Weibo posts describing their WeChat account being banned make it difficult for people to receive messages from colleagues, potential employers or family members. Some wrote that they were on the verge of depression.
Meanwhile, Tencent’s customer service Weibo accounts only post robot responses under these posts asking them to provide more information. Two Weibo users told MIT Technology Review that posting under hashtags did not help their appeals process.
Life after WeChat
Being banned from WeChat turns you into a ghost on the popular platform. “After losing WeChat, you feel like you’ve lost your connection to the world,” said Chen. “While you can still log in to your WeChat account, read messages sent to you by others and group messages, and make digital payments, you cannot interact with them or reply to them. .”
WeChat started allowing banned users to export their contacts in 2020, so if they choose to sign up for a new account and start over, they can re-add their friends one by one. But for most WeChat users who have had the app for more than a decade, this means manually adding thousands of contacts and explaining to them what they did to trigger the ban.
Chen has been using his old account for 11 years and has more than 1,400 contacts. It took him several hours to re-add 500 contacts from his backup account. “As I was adding contacts back, I was asked if I was a scammer and the person called me to confirm. If I don’t have this person’s number or other confirmation methods, they will probably refuse to befriend me right away,” Chen said. Then there are the subscriptions, bookmarked content, public accounts he follows and all the other information related to his WeChat account which he also needs to move. .
On Friday, after discussion of the protest had subsided, many WeChat users discovered which of their friends had been banned or helped their friends spread the word about their new WeChat handles. . A 2020 article offering a helpful checklist of what to do after being banned by WeChat has garnered at least 70,000 views overnight.
News of the suspension apparently also had a chilling effect, as people pondered whether to talk about the protest when it was now clear that it could get their accounts banned. By holding people’s access to digital services hostage, the government was able to prevent the spread of information and strengthen controls.
Not everyone is ready to be a hostage. Although Tina had heard about Weibo posts begging Tencent for help, that was not what she wanted to do. She understands the seriousness of political censorship and doesn’t believe posting will help.
So far, she has only told those close to her about what happened and plans to try living her life without a WeChat account, at least for a while. Either way, she always felt like she was spending too much time on social media apps — perhaps this forced layoff could be a detox experience.
“Many people signed up for their second account yesterday. But I told them I wouldn’t. I want to try. Say, if I can still live normally without WeChat, I think I can choose not to sign up for another account,” she said. “I don’t think an individual should be closely tied to [WeChat] together.”