Tencent says criticism of its dominance in social media is ‘groundless’ after its WeChat app blocks three rivals

  • With 1 billion monthly active users, WeChat has been maintaining its stranglehold on China’s social media environment
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2019, 5:51pm

Criticism of Tencent Holdings' dominance after it blocked three potential rival apps from its WeChat super app were “groundless”, according to private remarks by the internet giant's head of public relations that were reported by Chinese media on Thursday.

Links to three social media apps launched on Tuesday – Matong, Duoshan and Liaotianbao – were blocked from opening within WeChat’s browser for “containing unsafe content and receiving user complaints”, according to Tencent, prompting an immediate rebuke from the challengers.

“We respect rational discussion on the issue but don’t blow it out of proportion,” Tencent media spokesman Zhang Jun was quoted as saying in a private conversation, adding that the criticism against Tencent was “groundless”.

Pony Ma Huateng, co-founder and chief executive of Tencent, earlier had said privately he takes a “clear-cut stand” against anonymous social apps with “negative energy”. He was responding to a WeChat Moments post on Wednesday that referred to WeChat’s “hegemony”, a subject widely discussed by media and internet users, according to Chinese media.

A representative from WeChat said the comments by Zhang and Ma were private remarks and not meant for the public, declining to give an official statement.

Tencent takes big step to free WeChat from smartphones

WeChat, the do-everything app operated by Tencent, has come under strict scrutiny from Chinese censors lately. The app’s content ecosystem, which allows brands, organisations and bloggers to set up public accounts and post articles, audio, photos and videos for their followers, has been subject to a “clean up” amid ongoing tightening of online content by China’s internet watchdog.

With 1 billion monthly active users, WeChat is maintaining its stranglehold on China’s social media environment as rivals, who even have to rely on the Tencent app to sign up their own new users, emerge to challenge its dominance. Allen Zhang Xiaolong, the creator of WeChat, said in a speech last week that the app “has no competitor but itself”.

Luo Yonghao, founder of Chinese smartphone maker Smartisan and a backer of Kuairu Technology which owns Liaotianbao, addressed the issue directly during the product launch with a tagline that asked, “WeChat, can we chat?”.

However, he said the problem lay with the business environment in China rather than WeChat or Tencent. “Because of the gap between us and developed countries on anti-monopoly laws and unfair competition, such incidents happens every day.”

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Liaotianbao is an updated version of the once-popular messaging app Bullet Messenger. Luo announced on Thursday that the number of Liaotianbao users surpassed 1 million less than 24 hours after launch, but the app had been removed from Tencent’s Yingyongbao app store, according to Luo’s posts on China’s Twitter-like site Weibo.

The other two apps distanced themselves from WeChat at their launch by claiming they were not competing with Tencent’s superapp.

“WeChat doesn’t have to see us as a direct rival because we are doing different things,” said Chen Lin, chief executive of ByteDance’s news aggregation unit Jinri Toutiao which operates Duoshan. “WeChat builds the infrastructure for social networking,” he said.

“We are only touching on intimate communications, letting people with close relationships communicate with each other without any pressure.”

Duoshan, which translates as “many flashes”, lets users send text messages and stickers, as well as share images and videos that are accessible for up to 72 hours.

“We don’t look to compete with WeChat,” said Wang Xin, founder of Ringo.AI, the company behind Matong, adding that it will communicate with the WeChat team to clear up any misunderstanding regarding the blocking.

The Matong app lets users share their opinions and comments, and ask questions anonymously.