China: Apology over WeChat American flag 'glitch'

A WeChat user's screen showing the words "civil rights" and many American flag icons Image copyright Weibo
Image caption The feature has now been disabled for WeChat users in China

The Chinese technology company Tencent has apologised after a feature on its mobile messaging app flooded users' screens with American flags when the words "civil rights" were used.

WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, sends icons cascading down the screen in response to certain key terms, so "Happy Birthday" prompts a flurry of cakes. But Chinese users of the app who discussed civil rights were surprised to see the stars and stripes appear, the Global Times website reports. Officials from one Communist Youth League committee pointed out the app doesn't have any special icons when users type "China" or "National Day". Tencent blames a technical glitch, saying it was "supposed to be only available for users in the US" to mark Martin Luther King Jr Day. "We apologize for the misunderstanding caused by the error," a company statement reads. Screen grabs show the flags appearing when the words were written in English; it's unclear whether it also happened when Chinese characters were used.

The story has divided opinion on social media, but some users on the Weibo social networking site are angry at the - apparently unintended - implication that civil rights are associated with the US, and not China. "Doesn't this country have civil rights?" asks one user. Others are more troubled by flags being used at all. "China has guidelines for using the flag, you can't just use it for a joke," says one popular comment on the Caixin Online page. "If it was the Chinese flag falling, I think we would become a disrespected country." But not everyone's upset, and some users think the whole thing has been overblown. "You haven't done anything wrong," says one user. "There's no need to apologise."

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