WeChat has reported that the number of its users in Australia has decreased by almost 30 per cent over the course of the past three years. This comes as concerns have been raised regarding foreign manipulation on the app.
WeChat, which is owned by Tencent and is popular among members of Australia’s Chinese diaspora community, recently testified before an Australian parliamentary committee investigating the influence of powers on social media that as of July 2023, the app had less than 500,000 daily active users in Australia. In the year 2020, the corporation reported to the committee that its customer base consisted of 690,000.
The decrease in the number of users in Australia over the course of the previous three years has not been explained.
The information regarding the number of users of WeChat was included in a set of responses to 53 written questions that were posed to the business by the chairman of the committee, a Liberal senator named James Paterson.
Many of the same issues that led to TikTok being banned on Australian government devices have also been raised regarding WeChat, including connections to China and the necessity to pass over data if requested under China’s national security legislation. TikTok was prohibited on Australian government devices because of these concerns. At this moment, there is no blanket prohibition on using the software on any devices owned by the government.
In April, a lecturer at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University named Dr Seth Kaplan testified before the committee that WeChat was “basically a narrative machine for the CCP” (the Chinese Communist Party) and that this had flow-on implications for Chinese-language media in Australia.
“Because WeChat is so widespread,” he continued, “it influences everything that is not on WeChat that involves news and information, including media that is not directly controlled by the party.”
“What it amounts to is that rather than your democracy being a discussion amongst the people who live in the country, there is an additional voice that is given a significant amount of weight in the discussion. And that voice is controlled by an international authority that does not have your best interests in mind. ”
In its reaction, WeChat refuted Kaplan’s assertions by pointing to a letter that was published in the Wall Street Journal. In the letter, the firm stated that Kaplan lacked an understanding of how WeChat operated and stated that “No content is pushed to users, and Tencent exercises no editorial control.”
WeChat asserted that the laws of China would not apply to their business because their company, which is a subsidiary of Tencent, was formed in Singapore, and all 150 of their employees were located there.
WeChat stated that the Chinese government or party officials were unable to perform surveillance activities on the platform and that the company had not received any demands for data in accordance with China’s national security law.
WeChat is a safe and secure platform that complies with the laws of Singapore and enables users to communicate with one another in secret through chat messages? Any form of governmental surveillance would be in violation of our established guidelines.
Additionally, the business rejected allegations that it had censored information that was critical of the Chinese government, pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, or human rights atrocities committed against the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang.
According to a statement made by the firm, “WeChat will only engage in narrow and selective content moderation to prohibit universally undesirable content like fraud, nudity, hate speech, spam, violence, threats against the safety of minors, terrorism, and other criminal behaviour.” WeChat does not monitor or prohibit content in any way, shape, or form beyond the categories of inappropriate and illegal content that are outlined in our stated regulations?
Representatives from WeChat repeatedly declined to testify in front of the panel, citing the fact that the firm does not operate in Australia as their reason. Paterson stated at the time that it was impossible for a business “with such an influence on our diaspora communities to continue to operate with impunity and demonstrated disregard for our government without consequences.”
On Friday, Paterson was quoted in Australia saying the following: The responses provided by WeChat were described as “dismissive non-answers” and were “further evidence for the contempt they have for the Parliament of Australia.”
“They fail to substantively engage with the important questions put to them, instead engaging in blatant spin and corporate talking points,” he added. “They fail to substantively engage with the important questions put to them.”
“They categorically reject any notion that the platform is subject to censorship, surveillance, or other forms of control, despite the fact that this has been repeatedly and convincingly demonstrated by independent researchers and specialists.”
When the report of the committee is presented the following week, he said, it would contain recommendations for changes to be made in order to address the issues.