Coronavirus (564) Combating digital health inequality in the time of coronavirus (30) Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media

6 May, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

At the recent webinar with Bob Gann, someone asked: "How significant are political obstacles to digital inclusion? For example, the blockage of social media and news sites by some governments?"

We have discussed how a number of presidents (US, Brazil, Madagascar) have fuelled dangerous misinformation about coronavirus. Are there other kinds of political interference? We invite HIFA members to comment.

There are reports of another kind of political interference resulting in health misinformation: censorship. A recent report (March 2020) finds that certain words relating to coronavirus are censored on Chinese social media.

'Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media'

Key findings

1. YY, a live-streaming platform in China, began to censor keywords related to the coronavirus outbreak on December 31, 2019, a day after doctors (including the late Dr. Li Wenliang) tried to warn the public about the then unknown virus.

2. WeChat broadly censored coronavirus-related content (including critical and neutral information) and expanded the scope of censorship in February 2020. Censored content included criticism of government, rumours and speculative information on the epidemic, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts on handling the outbreak that had been reported on state media.

3. Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention.

Read in full:

The above should not be dismissed as it comes from a reputable source: The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, focusing on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security.

I have invited the authors to join us.

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: