Speculations about Washington to ban WeChat in the US surge as US and China tensions escalate, sparking a wave of panic among overseas Chinese. According to US authority, the social media app has helped Beijing disseminate propaganda messages and assisted China's surveillance operations. However, banning WeChat in the US -- every day's mobile app for overseas Chinese will harm the interest of a demographic that made up a large swath of the US immigrant population. Instead of kicking WeChat out of the US soil, Washington should explore other avenues to fight WeChat censorship – including forcing Tencent America to abide by American laws.
As a messaging app and a social media platform, WeChat has deeply ingrained in Chinese lives. It has over tens of millions of user base in North America. It is the only social media app that provides commercial and personal connections for the Chinese overseas Diaspora and foreign business community with a footprint in China. Yanking the app from their mobile devices would devastate the North American Chinese, including millions of Chinese Canadians, making them feel that they have lost an indispensable life companion.
Banning social media platforms are abusive and convenient tactics embraced by authoritarian regimes. The free online information has imposed an insurmountable threat to authoritarian rule. Fearing for social media's political danger, Beijing has resorted to restricting, filtering, monitoring, and prohibiting the information flow from the Western countries altogether while disregarding the social and economic benefits brought by social media. As a result, multiple popular social media platforms – from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram are unable to see the light of day in China.
However, freedom of speech and expression is a pillar of democracy. In a democratic country of the US, forcing a digital information provider out of US soil is a dangerous slippery slope from democracy to authoritarian rule. Instead of slapping a gag order, Washington can find better solutions to Beijing's WeChat abuse.
Indeed, Beijing has exploited WeChat to gain allegiance and loyalty, flushing the platform with disinformation and propaganda campaigns. But Washington can combat Beijing's operations by strengthening the democratic voice and supporting the independent Chinese language media that is growing in scales and scopes. While Beijing's massive infusion of money and aggressive tactics -- from sponsored coverage to a flood of misinformation -- has borne fruit, the US's financial power and journalist resources do not pale in comparison.
Beijing has also turned their censorship machine into the full-throttle on WeChat, silencing any dissident voices, and censoring any information critical of Beijing and pro-democracy. However, by setting its server in US soil, Tencent America must follow the rules in modern society, abiding by US constitutions of free speech and respecting human rights to freedom of expression. Tencent’s action of censorship provides legal ground for lawsuits and human rights claims and regulatory fines and penalties.
Washington has multiple means at its disposal to solve its burning issues of WeChat. But banning the platform is not one of them.
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