Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are blocked in their native country, but many Chinese students take full advantage of them while at Penn State.
“I use Twitter mostly for the news, but many of my friends use it to communicate with their American friends,” said Ruoyi Li, a junior. “We use Instagram the same way everyone else does. We want likes on our pictures and use it to show what we’re doing.”
China’s government is known for censoring social media in the country and blocking sites popular in the United States.
The restrictions force Chinese citizens to use other platforms, such as WeChat, China’s most popular social media service. Forbes magazine has called it one of the world’s most powerful apps.
“Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all blocked in China, so there’s no way for us to interact with each other on these social media vehicles,” said Weihao Li, a senior from China.
“Instead, we use WeChat to communicate with friends and family back in China,” he said. “If I’m not able to use it, I become very worried and anxious because I cannot get in touch with my friends and family.”
Even in the United States, WeChat is the main method Chinese students use to communicate with one another at Penn State, as well as with friends and family at home.
WeChat has 400 million users worldwide and allows users to send messages, shop, share locations, send voice memos and do video chats.
“I set up a lot of group chats with common friends on WeChat, so we can all communicate with each other in the same group,” Li said. “I also use the friend circle function a lot. It’s similar to Instagram, where people can post photos on it to share with friends.”
Although the app is regulated by the Chinese government, it doesn’t affect most people using it to say everyday things.
Spreading rumors and speculation online about corruption among senior Chinese officials is considered a crime and can result in a user’s account being shut down, according to the Index on Censorship, an international organization that promotes freedom of expression . The Index also reported that the app has blocked words designated “sensitive,” resulting in an error message.
“The Chinese government never leaves any permanent space for political expression. Sometimes they don’t find them straight away, sometimes they’re too busy dealing with other issues, but they are always censored,” Yunchao Wen, a Chinese social media expert told the Index on Censorship.