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19 July 2017

Whatsapp users in China report issues sending pictures and video, fearing censorship

Image: NG YI SHU/MASHABLE

Chinese Whatsapp users are fearing that the app is being blocked in the country.

On Tuesday, users found they weren’t able to send pictures or videos across. It only worked when they used a VPN server instead, possibly indicating that the issue wasn’t with Whatsapp, but with the government’s notorious firewall.

If true, the high-profile messaging app would be the latest casualty in China’s latest efforts to police online content.

Users took to Twitter to confirm the peculiar outage:

Users also reported the same on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that is heavily monitored and censored:

Image: Ng Yi Shu/Mashable

“Whatsapp got cordoned off. I really have no fucking thing to say.”

Image: NG YI SHU/MASHABLE

“If I have to connect to VPN to use Whatsapp, I’m going to be so tired.”

By early Wednesday, some reported that Whatsapp’s functionality seems to have returned:

Image: Ng Yi Shu/Mashable

“I just tried — I could text, send voice messages and images.”
“Yeah, it just recovered, and the connection was quick too.”

Image: NG YI SHU/MASHABLE

“It hasn’t been blocked, I can still use it.”

The error could be due to Whatsapp using its owner, Facebook’s infrastructure. Facebook has long been blocked in China, although Whatsapp hasn’t.

Still, test conducted by the South China Morning Post found that while texts appear to be okay, images and videos were not, and that images or videos received were only displayed as “loading thumbnails.”

Some posted screenshots of errors they received, showing how images and videos from servers overseas could not reach phones in China, or be sent out:

This development follows recent efforts to erase mentions of late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died last Thursday while in custody. He was convicted of subversion after he penned a democracy manifesto against the Communist Party. 

The censorship also comes as the government gets its ship in order for a Congress meeting later this year, where the country’s top leaders are selected. 

Like a recent ban on livestreaming, censors could have banned images and video being sent on Whatsapp because they were too hard to track and block, say censorship watchers.

“They have moved to brute censor all non-text content,” a researcher, who was only known as Charlie Smith, told AP. “It would not be surprising to find that everything on Whatsapp gets blocked, forcing users in China to use unencrypted, monitored and censored services like WeChat.”

Whatsapp — which offers end-to-end encryption — is one of a few foreign messaging apps that were allowed in the country until now. Telegram was blocked in 2015, while Signal’s service was patchy and had delays, according to AP.

Other alternatives — like WeChat — is heavily monitored by censors, and messages containing politically sensitive information is blocked. 

Mashable has reached out to Whatsapp for more.

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