What most posts share is a sense of desperation. As WeChat has become the super app used in almost every aspect of life, having your main account banned can be devastating. The Weibo posts described how having their WeChat accounts banned made it difficult for people to receive messages from colleagues, potential employers or family members. Some write that they are now on the verge of depression.
Meanwhile, Tencent’s customer service Weibo accounts only posted robotic replies under these posts asking them to provide more information. Two Weibo users told MIT Technology Review that posting under the hashtag didn’t help the appeals process at all.
Life after WeChat
Getting banned from WeChat turns you into a ghost on the ubiquitous platform. “After you lose WeChat, it feels like you’ve lost your connection to the world,” says Chen. “Although 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 banned users to export their contacts in 2020, so if they decide to register 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, that means manually adding thousands of contacts and telling them what they did to trigger the ban.
Chen used his old account for 11 years and had more than 1,400 contacts. It took him several hours to re-add 500 contacts from his backup account. “When I was re-adding contacts, they asked me if I was a scammer and the person called me to confirm. If I don’t have that person’s number or other confirmation methods, they might refuse to friend me right away ” says Chen. Then there’s also your subscriptions, bookmarked content, public accounts you follow, and all the other information linked to your WeChat account that you need to migrate as well.
On Friday, after the discussion about the protest had died down, many WeChat users were finding out which of their friends were banned or helping their friends spread their new WeChat handles. A 2020 article offering a helpful checklist of what to do after being banned by WeChat garnered at least 70,000 views overnight.
News of the suspensions obviously also had a chilling effect, as people weighed whether to talk about the protest when it was now clear that their accounts could be banned. By holding people’s access to digital services hostage, the government was able to obstruct the spread of information and increase its control.
Not everyone is willing to become a hostage. Although Tina has heard about the Weibo posts asking Tencent for help, this is not what she wants to do. He understands the gravity of political censorship and doesn’t think the publication will help.
So far, she has only told her close contacts what happened and plans to try to live her life without a WeChat account, at least for a while. Anyway, he’s always felt that he spent too much time on social media apps; perhaps this forced leave could be a detox experience.
“A lot of people were registering their second account yesterday. But I told them I won’t. I want to try it. If, let’s say, I can still live my life normally without WeChat, I think I can choose not to register another account,” he says. “I don’t think an individual should be tied so closely [WeChat] together”.