The latest scandal surrounding WeChat in China concerns one of the app’s defining features: ‘People Nearby’. Tapping this function returns a list of other users within vicinity. This flirty and oftentimes creepy feature is being used by prostitutes to find and turn tricks, according to CCTV, China’s state broadcaster.
Sexual solicitation on Chinese social networks isn’t anything new, but what really enraged audiences in this report was a survey among of school students that revealed they had come across the prostitutes’ accounts when encountering nearby people within WeChat. CCTV reporters in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou all conducted surveys and confirmed the trend.
wechat people nearbyFurther adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the journalists claimed to have reported six of the accounts in question to Tencent, but they were still active as of press time.
CCTV reports Tencent knows this is happening but is unable to solve the problem. Critics are calling for real-name registration, stricter government monitoring of accounts, and the option to install People Nearby as a separate plug-in.
WeChat isn’t the only app being used by sex workers in China. In fact, ‘potential clients’ are probably more likely to find what they’re looking for on Momo. The Chinese find-and-flirt app’s main function does the same thing as People Nearby on WeChat, and it lets users set up public dating profiles. A leaked video from earlier this year shows Chinese prostitutes actually taking classes on how to use both WeChat and Momo to lure in customers. Momo just announced it reached 50 million users and is starting to monetize. While many users just want to flirt, find a date, or hook up, prostitutes are commonplace on the app.