WeChat users plead with Tencent to restore their accounts after Beijing protests

What most posts share is a sense of desperation. Since WeChat has grown into a super app that is used in almost every aspect of life, getting your primary account banned can be devastating. Weibo posts describe how the blocking of their WeChat accounts made it difficult for people to receive messages from colleagues, potential employers, or family members. Some write that now they are on the verge of depression.

Meanwhile, Tencent’s customer service Weibo accounts only posted automatic replies under these messages asking for more information. Two Weibo users told MIT Technology Review that posting under the hashtag did nothing to help process their appeals.

Life after WeChat

Being blocked on WeChat turns you into a ghost on the ubiquitous platform. “After losing WeChat, it feels like you’ve lost touch with the world,” Chen says. “While you can still log into your WeChat account, read messages sent to you by others and group messages, and make digital payments, you cannot interact with or reply to them.”

WeChat started allowing blocked users to export their contacts in 2020, so if they decide to sign up for a new account and start over, they’ll be able to add their friends one at a time. But for most WeChat users who have had the app for over a decade, that means manually adding thousands of contacts and explaining to them what they did to trigger the ban.

Chen used his old account for 11 years and had over 1,400 contacts. It took him several hours to add back 500 contacts from his backup account. “When I added contacts again, 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 means of verification, they may immediately refuse to be friends with me,” says Chen. In addition, there are also subscriptions, bookmarked content, public accounts he follows, and all other information associated with his WeChat account that he also needs to transfer.

On Friday, after the discussion of the protest died down, many WeChat users found out which of their friends had been banned or helped their friends spread their new WeChat nicknames. A 2020 article that offered a helpful checklist of what to do after WeChat was blocked gained at least 70,000 views overnight.

The news of the suspension apparently also had a chilling effect, as people weighed whether or not to talk about the protest when it now became clear that their accounts could be banned. By holding people’s access to digital services hostage, the government has been able to block the flow of information and increase its control.

Not everyone is ready to become a hostage. Although Tina has heard of Weibo posts pleading with Tencent for help, she is reluctant to do so. She understands the seriousness of political censorship and does not believe that the publication will help.

So far, she has only spoken about what happened to her close contacts and plans to try living her life without a WeChat account, at least for a while. Either way, she always thought she was spending too much time on social media apps — maybe this forced vacation could be a detox experience.

“Yesterday, many people registered their second accounts. But I told them I wouldn’t. I want to try. If, say, I can still live normally without WeChat, I think I might as well not sign up for another account,” she says. “I don’t think a person should be so closely associated with [WeChat] together.”

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