WeChat: the application subverts public understanding
Picture showing WeChat app
Image: Pymnts, All rights reserved
By Shiwei Zhang
WeChat is a successful case of Internet transformation. It has become a pioneer in the modern social communication industry. This article will analyze WeChat’s business model, social ecology and regulatory system. In addition, this paper will also use specific cases to analyze how WeChat subverts the public’s understanding of social communication applications.
This article contains a total of six sections. The first section of this article will provide an overview of WeChat’s operations, while the second section will analyze the company’s historical development and the reasons for having a transformative effect. Business model and Internet ecology of WeChat will be explained in the following third section. Then, section four will examine WeChat’s regulatory system. Furthermore, the fifth part will analyze how WeChat has changed the public’s understanding of the Internet through specific cases. Finally, an in-depth summary of WeChat’s revolutionary Internet transformation will be presented.
What is WeChat?
To begin with, according to Hu(p.4, 2018), WeChat is an online social networking service(SNS) software with various features and multiple platforms based on Chinese. Besides, WeChat is called Weixin in Chinese, as an online social media enjoys a large amount of popularity in China, particularly within the young generation (Dong, p.6, 2016). The services that WeChat offer sending an instant text or voice messages, online audio or video chatting, online games and image sharing (Dong, p.7, 2016). Through using the WeChat, the user could post the images and videos on the moments to share with their friends. People could write the comments and click like to the post. The function of sharing is similar to Instagram. The WeChat registration process provides users with an easy and convenient way to register. New users can register a WeChat account through their previously used social media accounts such as QQ, Twitter，Facebook, email, etc(Wang & Gu, p.26, 2016).
The historical beginnings of WeChat
In January 2011, WeChat was founded by the Chinese international corporation Tencent Holding Limited(Montag, Becker and Gan, 2018). The team of Xiaolong Zhang created the application of WeChat. At that time, WeChat was not as popular as QQ in China. Before the launch of WeChat, QQ had basically monopolized the social communication platform in China. In the early stage, WeChat offers people the perceptive experience that it is merely a basic mobile phone communication software(Dong, p.7, 2016). The early users of WeChat were generally adults and middle-aged. Many children and young people still use QQ. In the original version of WeChat, the conception was presented “We can send and receive messages, photo sharing and contact friends”(Dong, p.7, 2016). The application is now available on all platforms which include iOS, Windows, Android, Mac.
Picture showing the QR code of WeChat Pay
When a user opens the WeChat application, the beginning sentence came up with was “WeChat is a way of life, rather than only a chat tool”, in April 2012 (Dong, p.7, 2016). In fact, in addition to sending SMS, voice and video calls, WeChat also has a payment function. Before 2014, Alibaba’s online payment platform Alipay basically monopolized the entire mobile payment market(Liu, Lu and Yu, 2018, p.116). Whereas, with the introduction of WeChat Pay and the red envelope function, WeChat Pay acquired more users than Alipay less than one year(Liu, Lu and Yu, 2018, p.116). For example, WeChat’s QR codes nowadays can be found everywhere in China, and are commonly used to receive payments. The mobile payment feature in WeChat has been widely promoted in the retail industry, which enables the development of a “cashless” lifestyle in China (Harwit, 2019, p.1). When WeChat Pay was widely popularized, the user group was not mainly middle-aged people. Many young and old people have also joined the ranks of users. This is because they have to carry out the expenses of daily life.
Picture showing the screenshot of WeChat Pay
Image: Kharpal, All rights reserved
The revolutionary Business model and ecology of WeChat
Compared to the business pattern of e-commerce, the social commerce of WeChat is a fresh business model that involves unknown factors and potential risks(Liu, Lu and Yu, 2018, p.116). The combination of Tencent games and third-party services contribute to the succeed of WeChat. According to Tencent’s revenue report(as cited in Horwitz, 2017), value-added services are the main source of revenue. The most important business model for WeChat is Tencent Games. Tencent as a leader in China’s social communication industry, WeChat acquire enormous benefits from its parent company’s gaming industry. The most popular Tencent game like the honor of kings and the league of legends(lol) enjoy a large amount of popularity among young people. The game account can only be registered by the account of QQ and WeChat. It basically monopoly the market of mobile game and PC game. The sources of these value-added services are obtained by users buying virtual goods in the game(Horwitz, 2017). Meanwhile, recharge services in Tencent games are usually paid for through WeChat Pay. This provides game users with a very convenient way of consumption.
WeChat’s position in the industry ecosystem is unassailable. The major competitors of WeChat are the messenger of Facebook, Whatsapp and Snapchat. Wechat’s huge user base and sound organizational system in China make it away from the pressure of competitors. Apart from the Tencent game, cooperate with the third party companies also greatly contribute to expanding the market. According to Horwitz(2017), advertising is the second largest source of revenue for Tencent. These third-party companies are paid a fee by Tencent to promote ads on the WeChat platform. From the above figure of WeChat pay, there is a bond between WeChat and other life services platform. These third-party partners have a consensual agreement with Tencent. This greatly contributes to enabling WeChat offers a wide variety of life services on the platform. Tencent has a very well-established and stable industrial chain under its umbrella. Cooperates with the third party services ride such as ride hailing services and Food delivery services, DiDi and JingDong respectively. The user only needs to click WeChat pay, the service like ride hailing and food delivery will appear to the audience. These funds can be used to invested in other prospective industries. In addition. the daily services such as mobile top up and utilities provide a large extent of convenience to the users. WeChat provides a new type of online living service that refreshes people’s perception of traditional social media software.
Picture showing Tencent’s revenue in 2016
Image: Horwitz, All rights reserved
WeChat’s regulation and censorship
The demonstration of WeChat regulation could start from about the censorship. Base on the Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato (2020, p.25), WeChat, a communication application registered and managed by Tencent, has long been accountable to severe censorship. It is true that Chinese users of Wechat often see penalties for people who post hate speech on Wechat on other social media sites. One of WeChat’s regulatory tools is to disable the sharing function of official accounts by censoring some offending and sensitive comments(Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato 2020, p.31). This could reduce the uncertain risk from people who subscribe to the official accounts make public panic. According to the research of University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab (as cited in Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato 2020, p.25), there is a huge difference in WeChat censorship system for between Chinese users and overseas users. Thus it can be seen that Wechat distinguishes the domestic censorship system from the international censorship system.
Picture showing WeChat post mentioning a diplomatic joint statement on Hong Kong (left) and censored statement (right)
The information posted by users on WeChat in China is fully monitored by the government (Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato 2020, p.27). It suggests that the message is transparent to the government’s regulatory authorities. This is a direct reason why the censorship strict. Some information that may jeopardize national security or reveal state secrets will be closely monitored and investigated by the government (Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato 2020, p.27). For example, WeChat usually pays close attention to what users say about sensitive political issues such as territorial disputes and the US election. It can be explained that the government in China holds the rights of WeChat manipulation. Regard to the political impact of WeChat, Ryan, Fritz and Impiombato (2020, p.25) mentioned about “Political interference” in China. This political influence affects social stability and public attitude to a great extent. In summary, the supervision and censorship system of WeChat is also a standard worthy of reference in the same industry.
Picture showing the health code system in WeChat
Image: Tan, All rights reserved
WeChat: subverted the understanding of social communication industry during Epedemic
WeChat plays an important role in recovering the normal functioning of society in the context of this year’s epidemic. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, health codes are required shown in advance when entering various public places such as schools, hospitals and subway stations. These health codes systems were first released by Tencent and Alibaba through intense competition(Tan, 2020). Thus, it can be seen that although Alipay does not belong to the field of social communication, it is in close competition with WeChat. Health Code system is a program developed by Tencent developers in WeChat in a positive response to the appeal of the Chinese government(Tan, 2020). After the launch of the system, People could acquire health code by using WeChat and Alipay to fulfil the form. As China’s online social and digital communication platform, WeChat has made revolutionary progress in the field of freedom of expression and information sharing(Wang & Gu, p.29, 2016). The implementation of this system makes users’ behaviour information transparent and allows users to know whether they have come into contact with patients or not. This greatly simplifies the difficulty of eliminating the epidemic. Thus, WeChat plays an important role in recovering the normal functioning of society in the context of this year’s epidemic. This has dramatically subverted the way people perceive the traditional social communication industry.
A final note
In conclusion, WeChat is a successful case of Internet transformation. It subverted the way people understanding the traditional social communication industry. The business model that combines the development of Tencent’s mainstream games with the monopoly of WeChat is also a benchmark for the industry. WeChat provides a new type of online living service that refreshes people’s perception of traditional social media software. The supervision and censorship system of WeChat is also a standard worthy of reference in the same industry. WeChat plays an important role in recovering the normal functioning of society in the context of this year’s epidemic.
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