Chinese social media block profile pic changes during congress

A picture illustration shows icons of WeChat and Weibo app in Beijing, on December 5, 2013. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2017
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Chinese social media block profile pic changes during congress

BEIJING: Chinese tech companies have prevented social media users from changing profile pictures and usernames amid heightened security as a key Communist Party conclave opened Wednesday in Beijing.
The move hit users of the ubiquitous Chinese social media platforms WeChat, QQ, Weibo and even Alibaba’s payment platform Alipay, though it appeared only to affect those with accounts registered on the mainland.
“WeChat is undertaking system maintenance. From today until the end of the month, users will temporarily be unable to change their profile picture, nickname and tagline,” the app, run by Internet behemoth Tencent, announced Tuesday.
Chinese authorities have kicked both online and offline security into high gear for the week-long, twice-a-decade party Congress that will reshuffle top leadership positions.
The ban on profile picture updates could be a bid to avoid the kind of defiance seen during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution in 2014, when Facebook users changed their profile pictures to yellow ribbons symbolising universal suffrage.
websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a slew of foreign media have been blocked for years.
In recent weeks the service of messaging app WhatsApp — which provides an end-to-end encryption function unlikely to please censors — was also severely disrupted.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a clampdown on Internet freedoms since he came to power in 2012, tightening censorship in a country where young people are avid users of social media.
In his opening speech to some 2,300 congress delegates gathered in the cavernous Great Hall of the People, Xi said the party should “provide more and better online content and put in place a system for integrated Internet management to ensure a clean cyberspace.”
Complaints about extreme over-crowding in the Beijing metro, subject to extra security checks during the congress, were scrubbed and photos of commuters crammed like sardines were deleted, according to Free Weibo, a website that archives items from social media that have been removed.
China enacted a controversial new cybersecurity law earlier this year.
Platforms must now verify users’ true identity before allowing them to post online, with certain content banned outright, including anything that damages “national honor,” “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system.”
Last month, Chinese Internet regulators slapped “maximum” fines on Tencent and Baidu, China’s Google-equivalent, for allowing the publication of such banned material.
There was not a single critical comment to be found on Weibo about Xi’s more than three hour-long speech Wednesday.
“The chairman spoke very well and hopes our country can be thriving and prosperous. He will lead the Chinese people to glory,” one user wrote.


Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

Updated 13 December 2018
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Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

  • A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work
  • The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa

Turkey remains the world’s worst offender against press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges.

Turkey has previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016.

The report said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism.

There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities have accused reporters of anti-governmental activities.

“It looks like a trend now,” the report’s author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. “It looks like the new normal.”

The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom.

The report criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for frequently characterizing negative media coverage as “fake news,” a phrase that is also used by leaders against their critics in countries like the Philippines and Turkey.

In Egypt, at least 25 journalists are in prison. Authorities say this is to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state.

Meanwhile, when asked about journalists being jailed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “Legal measures are not taken because of these suspects’ or criminals’ professions. This is unrelated.”

The overall number of jailed journalists is down eight percent from last year’s record high of 272, the CPJ said.

The total does not take into account journalists who have disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthis in Yemen.

(With Reuters)