WeChat users in America should be given a choice

September 3, 2020 — by Cici Xu

An executive order from the Trump administration declared that WeChat, a major Chinese multi-purpose communication application developed by Tencent, will be banned starting on Sept. 20 due to concerns over national security. The stated reason: WeChat was reported to automatically capture users’ personal information. 

According to Reuters, the ban will cut off more than 6 million Chinese users who live in the U.S. and 19 million daily American users, a majority of whom are ethnic Chinese. 

WeChat is undoubtedly the most popular application in China with over 75 percent of the 1.3 billion Chinese population using itt. It is an all-in-one application with functions like instant message, video chat, stories, money transactions, live news, popular channels, games, news subscriptions and countless other programs to satisfy people’s everyday needs. 

People have little to no choice on choosing an alternative communication application in China with the same functions that WeChat has. Nearly every store in China allows payment through WeChat. Before the people realized it, this rapidly developing application had become an inseparable part of their lives. 

In March 2019, Victor Gevers, the Dutch co-founder of the nonprofit GDI Foundation — an open-source data security collective — discovered a Chinese database containing billions of WeChat messages from mainland China and other parts of the world. The White House also reported that WeChat censors content that the Chinese government finds politically sensitive. 

The current political rivalry between the two countries worsened the situation and eventually led to the Trump administration’s decision to ban the application. Still, WeChat, to many Chinese people and Chinese Americans, is more than just a form of communication; it is a bridge between the overseas families and their friends and relatives in mainland China.

Banning this application is similar to China censoring YouTube and Facebook — it is not a representation of democracy. Rather, a ban rejects a minority culture and despairs many families that depend on this application for daily communication with their loved ones, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

WeChat users in America should be forewarned of the consequences of using WeChat. They should, however, be given a choice about whether they want to continue using it. This can easily be achieved through integrating a user contract in the application, or through extensive reports in the media detailing the updated user data policies. 

After all the users in America are informed about WeChat’s policies, users who fear that their privacy might be compromised by the application may delete their WeChat account and choose another communication application available in the market. Eventually, the only people left using WeChat here would be the ones who consent to the policies and want WeChat as a daily means of communication with their overseas families. 

The integration of people’s judgments will not only address the concerns of users’ securities, but will also satisfy those who view WeChat as a necessity. For boarding students who come to America without their parents by their side in pursuit of a better education, seeing their parents’ faces every day through a familiar application is a form of comfort. During times like New Year’s Eve, WeChat not only provides the opportunity to celebrate virtually but is a means to preserve a 5,000-year-old culture through viewing fireworks, reuniting with overseas families and getting pocket money. 

This does not mean that those Chinese Americans reject the values of America, nor does it mean that they are not adapting to what the executive order calls a “free society” — a society where people have the freedom to act in their self-interest and obtain and utilize resources to fulfill their own goals. They choose to obey the rules of WeChat and temporarily sacrifice their freedom of expression in exchange for their dignity as loyal sons and daughters and people who still value their ancestry, which they prioritize more than their privacy. 

The potential WeChat ban also brings inconveniences to the local community. Many parents depend on this application to communicate with each other. Since the start of the quarantine, many Asian parents came together and created a collective buying group in WeChat to assist each other when the supplies of food and other needs like toilet paper are low. Without WeChat, they are considering moving their collective buying platform to Telegram, a communication application that also includes functions like instant messaging and video calling. 

WeChat users in America could take advantage of a variety of communication options open to them in the market, but they still choose WeChat. That said, the ban cannot change the mindsets of users because WeChat represents something much bigger than themselves: connection to family, memories from their beloved and a feeling of home. As a free country that embraces diversity, the American government should give its own people the choice to decide for themselves. 

 

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