How China Is Hunting Down Coronavirus Critics

“As China ramps up efforts to control the narrative around the coronavirus outbreak, it is also expanding its efforts to leverage online platforms to track down people who dare to speak out,” reports Vice. “From tracking down Twitter users using their mobile numbers to hacking WeChat accounts to find out someone’s location, Beijing is eager to stop any negative news from being shared online – and is will to use intimidation, arrests and threats of legal action.” From the report: Joshua Left, a 28-year-old entrepreneur who runs a self-driving car startup in Wuhan, China, arrived in San Francisco in mid-January for a vacation, just as the first reports of a new “SARS-like” virus outbreak in China reached the U.S. He almost immediately began worrying about his family back in his hometown of Wuhan, where the disease appeared to originate, and where panic was starting to set in. Concerned that his family might not be getting information on the scale of the burgeoning epidemic, he posted messages on his WeChat account sharing information he was afraid were not available inside China. “But then things started to get weird,” he told VICE News.

Left, who asked not to be identified by his full Chinese name, said he first received a warning message from WeChat administrators. Then he began receiving strangely specific messages that appeared to come from four of his friends on WeChat, all asking him for his location, what hotel he was staying at in San Francisco, what his room number was, and what his U.S. phone number was. Then his cell phone received a warning message that someone in Shanghai was trying to log into his account. Finally, when he wouldn’t tell them where he was staying, the same accounts all simultaneously began urging him to return to China as soon as possible. Left told VICE News the he believes his friends only sent the messages after they were coerced by agents from the Ministry of State Security in an attempt to get him to reveal his location, and part of a much wider effort by the Chinese government to crack down on any dissenting voices who are sharing content related to the coronavirus outbreak. The report also mentions a separate incident where agents from the Ministry of State Security detained and interrogated a Chinese resident for criticizing the Chinese government’s delayed response to the coronavirus outbreak on Twitter. After the resident refused to meet with the Ministry over the phone, the agents showed up at his front door with a screenshot of his tweet that they say “attacks the Communist Party of China.”

The resident was forced to sign a “promise note” saying he would not repeat the “threat” he had made.