2018-02-09 11:12:04

Just a few months after a policy was implemented to make chat “owners” responsible for content posted in their groups, WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging app, has underlined its zero-tolerance policy for illegal gambling promoted or carried out on its platform.

“WeChat will maintain its high-level crackdown [on gambling],” WeChat said in a press release Thursday. The announcement comes just ahead of the weeklong Chinese New Year holiday, during which the company said it expects online gambling to peak.

WeChat said in the press release that it will double down on illegal gambling by deleting illicit content either reported by users or detected by the program’s own algorithms. Any relevant information, it added, would be handed over to police.

A spokeswoman for WeChat had not responded to Sixth Tone’s questions by time of publication.

According to the company’s statistics, WeChat has identified over 2,300 chat groups involved in or related to online gambling, leading to over 30,000 users being punished, either by having certain features disabled — the ability to post links or photos, for example — or by being denied access to their accounts. In addition, the company said that over the past two years, it has aided police in 28 illegal gambling cases involving some 1 billion yuan ($160 million) and leading to over 100 arrests.

Also on Thursday, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported that police in Huzhou, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, arrested two people suspected of running a gambling ring on WeChat.

One of the suspects, a woman surnamed Zhu, stands accused of making and deleting new gambling WeChat groups every day. Users would play a game called, niu niu, or “cow cow,” which is similar to roulette. Zhu would send a virtual red envelope containing an amount of money that would be divided at random to the first predetermined number of users to open it.

But this, of course, was pocket change. The real money came from users betting on the random outcomes — the first digit of the amount received by the eighth recipient, for example, or whether the “luckiest draw” was single or double digits.

Zhu, who was apprehended on Jan. 4, was found guilty of illegally obtaining over 1 million yuan.

In September of last year, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced that chat group administrators would be held legally responsible for the content posted in groups they started or were given charge of — regardless of whether they themselves posted the prohibited content.

Although the regulation officially went into effect in October, several cases of group owners being cautioned for messages posted under their watch had previously come to light. In December 2016, local media reported about a chat group manager being detained for turning a blind eye to the pornography that was posted in his group every day.

And on the same day the cyberspace administration published its regulation, a man in eastern China’s Anhui province was served five days’ detention because a member of a WeChat group he administered had cursed police after being fined for a traffic violation. Official charges were dismissed, however, following the man’s appeal.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A woman shows the members of a WeChat group on her mobile phone in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, Feb. 20, 2017. VCG)