May 30, 2017 By FTI Consulting
WeChat has expanded its core messaging capability with a new search tool and news feed to compete directly with China’s search giant Baidu and leading news aggregator Toutiao. The built-in functions only index those articles pushed and shared within the walls of WeChat rather than from the wider web. Users can search content sourced from both private ‘moments’ (similar to Facebook posts) as well as public official accounts used by companies, media outlets and independent bloggers. The strategic move poses a looming threat to Baidu as the search engine operator has long been blocked by WeChat from indexing content published within the walled garden.
The spotlight on online censorship usually directed towards China has recently turned on the Thai government. In the past few weeks, escalating attempts have allegedly been made to suppress information online in Thailand. With a disparaging video of the Thai King surfacing last week, the government ordered Facebook to geoblock hundreds of pages on the platform that violated local lèse-majesté laws by criticizing the royal family. Despite threats of having their operations shut down in the country, Facebook hasn’t completely backed down. The deadline has passed, the network is still accessible although a number of offending pages have been removed as per the government’s request.
The Thai government has usually elected to block entire websites containing content deemed to be inappropriate. However, this is not possible with a platform as widely-used by the general public, as well as political bodies, as Facebook. The only option is to geoblock content and pages, even though it is a much less effective method to suppress information. The situation becomes even more muddled when the content itself meets the platform’s community guidelines but not domestic laws. However, transparency can help users understand the position of the platform. Timely and detailed notification of what has been censored and why, is necessary for all involved.
On his way to the country’s top job, South Korea’s newly-elected president Moon Jae-In engaged young people across the country through his campaign’s use of a multi-channel social media strategy. By embracing the power and reach of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Moon was able to communicate and appeal to a wider, and more importantly, younger audience. Combined with a visually-appealing campaign website, the success of these digital platforms in raising Moon’s appeal with South Koreans has shown how powerful they can be to influence public opinion.
Social media is playing an increasingly influential role in shaping political views. Not only are political parties communicating more closely with citizens on digital platforms, the general public is also taking their voices and opinions online. However, the lack of regulatory oversight of online content could encourage the spread of misleading information, which could have devastating impacts on political issues. Building a library of well-managed and engaging official channels as the Moon campaign did is an example of an effective way to control and deliver messages to the right people at the right time.