Threat Intelligence Blog

Posted September 10, 2013

WeChat, or “Weixin” in Chinese, is a mobile application, which according to Wikipedia, offers “hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, photo/video sharing, location sharing, and contact information exchange. WeChat supports social networking via shared streaming content feeds and location-based social plug-ins (“Shake,” “Look Around,” and “Drift Bottle”) to chat with and connect with local and international WeChat users.”

It is interesting to note that the “Bo” in Weibo can mean “great, plentiful, to have a wide knowledge of; while the “Xin” in Weixin can mean “letter, message, to have trust in.” This is one way of explaining the differences between the two. A translated quote from a Chinese blog post sums up the differences between Weibo and WeChat thusly:

Weibo is a public network for sharing information, while WeChat is more like a personal network; these two platforms of social interaction are fundamentally different. But because there are overlaps in Sina Weibo users and WeChat users, spending time on one product means a decreased amount of time invested on the other platform. More specifically, in WeChat, users must mutually confirm in order to become friends with each other. This mechanism first of all eliminates irrelevant information from “irrelevant users” from each respective social network. As for those friends who you can’t avoid adding, the friend group has another neat capability: when setting up a private “friend group”, the user can pick for themselves “people who can’t see my pictures” and “don’t want to see their pictures,” which helps users avoid receiving junk information and allows users to choose who can see the information they post.

In other words, WeChat focuses the circle of interaction on a set of key people that users actually interact with on a day-to-day basis.

Weibo, however, is still widely popular and significant for monitoring general trends, sharing local news, garnering support or awareness for a particular cause, generating interest in a topic or issue, and sharing information on a broader scale. In contrast, WeChat creates intimate circles of interaction for quicker and/or more frequent dissemination of information, and also allows users more control over the visibility of that information.

For example, an event or gathering with a handful of select friends may be planned and discussed in a more intimate way using WeChat. Later on, you could post photos of the gathering and other information regarding that event on Weibo. This is not to say that personal messaging can’t be done on Weibo – it can, through Weibo messaging – but one can argue that WeChat is ideal for fast and frequent back-and-forth communication. Users choosing to interact more within smaller private circles means there are limits to what can be seen on the open public network.

On the contrary, if an event was open to the public, it might be more effective to put the invite on Weibo rather than message a mass quantity of individuals who may or may not be interested in attending.

In our next blog post we’ll explore more differences between the two platforms and the potential impact for security researchers.

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