WeChat has made headlines in China this week over the death of a man in the southern city of Shenzhen. The 22-year-old killed himself after the ubiquitous messaging and mobile-payment app temporarily blocked his account.
The man died Aug. 15, according to an announcement Thursday from Tencent, WeChat’s large and powerful parent company. The tech giant said it had blocked the deceased’s WeChat account for three days after another user reported him for harassing her and sending pornographic content.
The deceased’s brother, surnamed Tang, told Sixth Tone on Friday that he had found a video on his brother’s phone in which he ranted for several minutes about being upset by the punitive action taken against his account.
“He explained that Tencent had blocked his WeChat and he had failed to get in touch with Tencent’s customer service,” Tang said. “Because my brother runs a shop, losing access to the WeChat account had a huge impact on his business.”
Tang declined to share the video with Sixth Tone, citing the police’s request that he keep it private.
Tang added that his brother had messaged the Shenzhen police before killing himself to inform them of his decision: He provided his name and national ID number, and requested that they not tell his grandparents of his fate.
Tang said his family received 150,000 yuan ($21,850) in cash from the local subdistrict office during an arbitration meeting, though he doesn’t know whether the money came from Tencent.
The deceased’s relatives are currently awaiting the results of a police investigation. WeChat’s public relations team was unavailable for comment Friday.
“To be honest, his message to that woman was a bit over the line,” the deceased’s brother told Sixth Tone without elaborating.
According to WeChat’s user agreement, all accounts on the platform belong to Tencent. It also says that if Tencent finds or receives evidence that a user is in violation of the terms of service, WeChat “is entitled to remove or obscure relevant content at any time and without notice.” Violations include “endangering national security,” “spreading rumors,” and “disseminating obscenity,” among others.
The Shenzhen man’s death has sparked heated online discussion about who should own the rights to personal social media accounts. In China, a country with over 1 billion active WeChat users, the platform is all but essential in daily life, from communicating with colleagues and ordering takeout to calling cabs and booking hospital appointments.
On China’s Quora-like Q&A platform Zhihu, many users have shared their own experiences of having their WeChat accounts blocked, and the inconveniences it caused.
“Because my account is connected to many third-party apps, after it was blocked, I wasn’t able to use them,” a user on QQ — another Tencent-owned messaging platform — told Sixth Tone. “Apart from the influence on my daily life, I lost contact with most of my friends.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: People Visual)