WeChat accounts can be useful for officials, but can be trouble too

By Kou Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-5 19:28:01

The Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CPC opened a public account on WeChat on Friday. Photo: IC

As its number of users reached 600 million in 2015, WeChat Moments, a Chinese social platform, has come into vogue not only for ordinary people, but also for governmental officials.

The Chinese name for WeChat Moments is "Pengyou Quan", which literally means "friend circle." It allows users to post images and texts, share music and articles, as well as comment and "like" others' posts. WeChat can also be linked to other social media and can automatically post Moments to relevant platforms.

Though it is a convenient way to communicate, government officials are quite cautious about using Moments due to their identity as influential public figures, officials reached by the Global Times said.

Anti-social media

"Government officials are influential public figures, thus they should be very careful about their remarks on social media as well as the information they reveal to the public," a diplomat surnamed Tang told the Global Times.

New Party rules on sanctions for those who violate the Party code of conduct issued on October 18 ban Party members from making "groundless" comments about the nation's policies on social media.

An official surnamed Wu in East China's Shandong Province was punished for leaving "groundless and negative" comments about the "One Country, Two Systems" policy on a WeChat Moment, according to an article in a newspaper run by the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party of China in December.

Cai Fushun, a governmental official in Southwest China's Guizhou Province was removed from his position after his explicit WeChat conversations with many women were leaked, including his request that a 17-year-old girl find him virgins aged between 15 to 18, Nandu Daily reported in 2014.

As WeChat is a semi-public space where sharing posts is common, Party members can be punished for making "irresponsible" statements on the platform, according to an article published in the CCDI-affiliated newspaper in December.

Fearing that their comments may land them in hot water, some officials avoid Moments. A provincial-level official told Southern Weekly, that very few ministerial-level or provincial-level officials use WeChat, while he only reads messages posted on Moment without even giving "likes" or making comments.

"High-ranking officials are unlikely to post Moments, since they are more cautious of publicizing their opinions," another diplomat who asked for anonymity told the Global Times.

On the other hand, some officials reached by the Global Times said that they enjoy using Moments, since it can help them communicate with colleagues and carry out their work.

Dorje, director of the Publicity Department of the Nangqian County Party Committee in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, told the Global Times that WeChat is a working platform for him.

"I always post positive local news, as well as sharing educational materials with my colleagues on Moments, which has become a window to advertise my county," he added.

Apart from using Moments as a working platform, some officials use Wechat Moments to post pictures of their personal life, as well as interesting articles and videos.

"Officials are also ordinary people. I create different groups, so that my friends and family members can view my personal posts, while superiors and colleagues can only see the work information I share," a deputy chief in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times.

WeChat whistleblowers

Though officials are generally cautious about using WeChat, many government bodies have seized the chance to make use of it.

The CCDI, China's top discipline watchdog, launched its official WeChat account on January 1 as a new way to receive tip-offs on the "four undesirable work styles" that are part of the government's austerity campaign, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The public can directly report undesirable work styles to the CCDI - formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance - through the WeChat account, read a statement on the CCDI's official website.

A white paper issued in April by the Tencent Research Institute found that government WeChat accounts have gradually been upgraded from simply releasing news to delivering services, with a total of 40,924 set up by 2014. Tencent is the developer of WeChat.

More than 30 percent of WeChat users have used services provided by government accounts, of which 80 percent said they were highly satisfied with the service, the white paper read.

"The number of government WeChat accounts has skyrocketed, as they have become a major channel for promoting the transparency of government work," Dorje said.
Newspaper headline: Just a moment

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