China is investigating a number of its major social networks like Baidu‘s Tieba, Weibo, and WeChat over cyber security law violations, the top authorities in the country said earlier this week. The largest online platforms in the Far Eastern country are being probed over Beijing’s claims that some of their users are sharing illegal content on the World Wide Web, including politically dissenting opinions, obscenities, and content related to extremism. Some industry watchers see the move as China’s latest attempt to censor local dissidents in the run-up to the Communist Party Congress which is scheduled to take place this fall. The most populated country in the world has a history of cracking down on dissidents in an aggressive manner and its efforts to do so have only expanded in the Internet era, with the Chinese administration going as far as banning certain cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh solely because they were used in memes that some anti-government individuals and organizations used to mock the political leadership in the country.
Tieba, WeChat, and Weibo boast hundreds of millions of users each and have been censoring content in a proactive manner with the goal of avoiding government sanctions for years now, and the fact that the trio is now under an official investigation will likely see those efforts increase in the immediate future, most industry watchers believe. As part of its efforts to censor the Internet, China is also blocking the vast majority of Google’s services including Search and is preventing its population from accessing foreign social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Likewise, the communist administration has recently been cracking down on providers of virtual private networks (VPNs) that can be used for circumventing its online restrictions while simultaneously policing Internet content that the local population cannot access without a registered phone number.
Baidu representatives already said that they’ll be looking to do more to collaborate with the government in an effort to crack down on dissenting opinions posted on Tieba, the largest online discussion board in the country. Tencent‘s WeChat messaging platform and Weibo have yet to comment on the latest turn of events, though both are expected to make similar moves to avoid any sanctions.