The WeChat blog named Scott Morrison
What happened and what about the fuss and feathers
Your Pekingnologist prefers using “WeChat blog” in describing WeChat’s official term for 公众号: “Official Account”, because first of all 公众号 is indeed a multimedia blog that enables posting of text, pictures, and videos and secondly the phrase “official account” could be misleading.
Just as a blog on the World Wide Web, a 公众号 WeChat blog is a blog on WeChat that has a name prominently displayed, but also has, in WeChat’s own words, an “Account Entity” which could be an individual or an organization and basically the blog’s operator.
For example, in the following snapshot, you see the “Official Account”/WeChat blog name 澳大利亚驻华使领馆 “Australian embassy & consulates in China” in the red box.
And if you click the green box above, you get to the page where the “Account Entity”/operator is displayed, in the red box below: 澳大利亚驻华大使馆 “Australian embassy in China”. And the blue check indicates the identity of the “Account Entity”/operator has been confirmed by WeChat, just like the Twitter blue check.
Sometimes, the Account Entity/operator and the Official Account/WeChat blog name are the same or identical, as shown above, and the operator is certified by WeChat.
Sometimes they aren’t. For example, the Account Entity/operator behind the “Official Account”/WeChat blog 美国驻华大使馆 “U.S. embassy in China” is identified only as 个人 an individual, as shown in the green box below. And there is no blue check which you saw above.
Per WeChat’s rules [Chinese, shown below] on 公众号 Official Account/WeChat blog and your Pekingnologist’s user experience, there is an established process for 迁移 transferring/migrating the assets - the followers/subscribers and content are usually the most precious - of an Official Account/WeChat blog to another by the Account Entity/operator.
The Chinese words in the red box are translated as
What is account migration?
WeChat Official Accounts do not support the direct change of account entities. The Official Accounts platform launched the account migration function, through which the followers/subscribers, rule-violation records, content (optional), and Wechat accounts (optional) of Official Account A can be migrated to Official Account B.
Tips: For example, if Official Account A is migrated to B, when the migration is completed, Official Account A will be recalled [by WeChat], and information such as followers/subscribers of Official Account A will continue to be available for B, and the [new] Account Entity will be B.
To give followers/subscribers a notice and choice, one key step in the migration process is WeChat will send a message to the followers/subscribers telling them that an account migration is happening: the name of the old Official Account/WeChat blog, the old Account Entity/operator, the name of the new Official Account/WeChat blog, and the new Account Entity/operator.
And that appears to be what happened with the WeChat blog formerly named Scott Morrison, based on this snapshot circulating online and quoted by a Global Times report [Chinese]. (The red box is added by your Pekingnologist.)
The Chinese words in the red box are translated:
Name of the old Official Account/WeChat blog： Scott Morrison
Old Account Entity/operator：纪** [Someone whose Chinese name begins with the character 纪 - pronounced as Ji]
Name of the new Official Account/WeChat blog: 澳华新生活 [roughly translated as Australian Chinese New Life]
New Account Entity/operator: 福州九八五信息科技有限公司 Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Ltd
So what actually happened?
Someone likely surnamed Ji registered a WeChat blog and named it Scott Morrison. Then Ji migrated/transferred the WeChat blog to Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Ltd and the new name of the WeChat blog is now Australian Chinese New Life.
Now, this is the official statement from WeChat’s owner Tencent:
There is no evidence of any third-party intrusion.Based on our information, this appears to be a dispute over account ownership — the account in question was originally registered by a PRC individual and was subsequently transferred to its current operator, a technology services company — and will be handled in accordance with our platform rules.
Tencent is committed to upholding the integrity of our platform and the security of all users accounts, and we will continue to look into this matter further.
Per Tencent’s saying, what likely happened is that neither Scott Morrison nor his office directly controlled the WeChat blog named Scott Morrison, but contracted/allowed some PRC individual surnamed Ji to operate that WeChat blog. Scott Morrison and his office didn’t ensure their direct control of the WeChat blog as the Australian embassy in China did with its WeChat blog - remember the blue check?
Then, for reasons currently unknown, Ji, as the registered Account Entity/operator, migrated/transferred it to Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Ltd, which now operates the WeChat blog as 澳华新生活 [roughly translated as Australian Chinese New Life].
Now some useful bits out of the numerous media reports, per Reuters
An employee from Fuzhou 985 Technology, who only gave his surname as Huang, told Reuters by telephone was not aware the account was previously connected to Morrison. He said the transfer of ownership was conducted with a Chinese male national living in Fuzhou, whose identity he declined to disclose.
"We thought this account had a large fanbase, so we decided to buy it," said Huang, adding that the company was looking for an account whose target audience was the Chinese community in Australia. He declined to say how much his company had paid to take over the account.
Per Australian broadcaster SBS
But SBS News Chinese has been in contact with the new operator of the account who claims he acquired it legitimately.
Aipeng Huang, under whose name Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Ltd was registered, said that he knew nothing about the background of this account, and the transfer was “a completely legal commercial activity”.
“The original owner transferred it to us. I personally was not aware of anything about the account (prior to the transfer),” Mr Huang said when explaining how they acquired this account.
Finally, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said this in today’s press briefing, according to the official transcript in English:
Reuters: First, some Australian Members of Parliament have said China’s government is engaged in foreign interference after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s WeChat account was hacked. Do you have any response to this accusation?
Zhao Lijian: I am not aware of the relevant situation you mentioned and suggest that you refer your question to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his team running the account.
The accusation of China interference is nothing but unfounded denigration and smear. We do not and have no interest in interfering in other countries.
The take-away: Beijing doesn’t have anything to do with this. Go ask Morrison and his team running the account.
According to Reuters, WeChat is apparently a thing in Australia:
Australia's two major political parties have used the Chinese social media platform to communicate with Australian voters of Chinese ethnicity in tightly fought electorates since 2019. The ruling Liberal Party would have aimed to use the Morrison account to promote its policies during the Chinese New Year celebrations starting Feb. 1.
"There's 1.2 million Australians of Chinese descent who overwhelmingly use this service and now can no longer access news and information from their Prime Minister," he [Liberal Senator James Paterson, Chair of Parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security] said on Australian radio on Monday.
In addition to why the Australian Prime Minister and his team haven’t ensured their direct control of the WeChat blog bearing his name as the Australian embassy in China has done over its own, there is another question: why now? After all, the blog’s migration/transfer happened months ago.
Lastly, the news was first reported by the (Australian) Daily Telegraph, which said the WeChat blog had been “rebranded as a propaganda outfit.” Your Pekingnologist doesn’t have a subscription, but that isn’t true, based on the very snapshot the paper chose:
The snapshot that the (Australian) Daily Telegraph chose on its preview page is this one from the now Australian Chinese New Life (compare the pictures):
Translations of the Chinese words (still accessible) in the red boxes above:
Online seminar with the multicultural community leaders: The Australian multicultural community has been joining hands to combat the pandemic with dedication and pragmatism, for which I’m very proud…
Giving Australians the confidence to move on When this government released its budget last week, it gave Australians the confidence that our country has the economic plan to help us emerge from the recession brought on by COVID-19.
Tax cuts for 11.6 million Australians
“Rebranded as a propaganda outfit”?
In the end, you can probably understand - and hopefully sympathize with - your Pekingnologist’s insistence on abandoning WeChat’s official term “Official Account” and, instead, using “WeChat blog” to describe the thing - if you don’t know all the background, “the Official Account of Scott Morrison” could be very misleading, but a “WeChat blog named Scott Morrison” is way more accurate.