The Communist party has opened a new front in its battle to control information: the smartphone apps that hundreds of millions of Chinese use to send instant messages to each other.

On Tuesday, three Chinese government agencies launched a “special operation” to censor WeChat, the hugely popular Chinese version of WhatsApp, promising to save the public from “objectionable, illegal and harmful information”.

The campaign is part of a broader move to dilute the use and influence of social media among Chinese, many of whom now spend their days glued to the screens of their mobile phones.

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