China in cyber lockdown as WeChat, QQ and Weibo ban changes to users’ profiles

Mainland’s three biggest social media platforms make near-simultaneous announcements on eve of Communist Party conference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 6:23pm

Chinese social media users will have to wait until November if they want to change their profile pictures, usernames or personal biographies on WeChat, QQ and Weibo, the country’s most popular platforms.

WeChat, which has 963 million active users, announced the freeze in a statement on Tuesday, the night before China’s Communist Party congress opened.

The social media giant said it was “for system maintenance”.

The brief, 60-character announcement added that other functions would not be affected.

The restrictions only appeared to have been applied to accounts registered in mainland China.

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QQ, another popular messaging app owned by Tencent, the tech giant behind WeChat, sent a similar message to its users earlier the same day, also attributing the move to “system maintenance”.

Weibo – which is often described as China’s equivalent to Twitter – went even further, closing new overseas registrations until October 30.

The social media platform also issued an announcement on Tuesday – once again attributing the freeze to “system upgrading” – but soon deleted the post from its official account.

The microblog has more than 360 million active users, compared with Twitter’s 328 million.

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Weibo has previously introduced similar measures when the platform needed upgrading or maintenance – but the freezes usually only stayed in force for a couple of hours.

WeChat has not done anything like this before.

The South China Morning Post has previously reported how in the run-up to the party congress Airbnb and other short-term rental companies had cancelled all bookings in the centre of Beijing and drone flights had been banned.

Meanwhile, universities have been told to submit daily cybersecurity reports between October 8 and 27.