An opinion blog run by internet giant Tencent Holdings has been closed abruptly, sparking speculation that it has run afoul of Beijing’s tightened control of social media amid recent public criticism of government attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus in China.

The official WeChat account of Dajia, which has published opinion pieces on social issues by some of the country’s leading intellectuals and independent thinkers since its inception in 2012, was removed on Wednesday and its homepage was unavailable.

A Tencent spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

An empty street is seen in Wuhan, center of the recent coronavirus outbreak in Hubei province on January 25. (Picture: Reuters)

The sudden shutdown comes amid an ongoing “clean-up” of online content in China, as Beijing moves to tighten its grip on the flow of information, after an early flurry of public criticism breached the country’s strong censorship controls.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced earlier this month that it had punished a range of platforms and publishers for content it deemed unsuitable and misleading. CAC said it “supervised and guided” companies including Sina, Tencent and ByteDance – owners of the country’s most popular social platforms Weibo, WeChat and Douyin/TikTok respectively.

The CAC said it had also punished a number of individual accounts for “reporting against regulations” and spreading false information, without elaborating.

Previously, some Chinese netizens posted that their WeChat accounts had been suddenly suspended, under the hashtag “WeChat bans accounts.” The suspensions were reported to range from 24 hours up to a permanent ban, which means that users could lose all of their WeChat contacts.

Online social community Douban also suspended a function called Diary, which allows users to post long articles, for two weeks before the service resumed on Thursday. Many users have been using Douban Diary to describe the ongoing situation in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, which has been under lockdown.

David Bandurski, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center and co-director of the school’s research program China Media Project, said the central authorities were now seeking to push “authoritative information” and “wrestle back control of public opinion” in relation to the coronavirus

A Dajia post on January 27 by Chen Jibing, in which the veteran Chinese journalist accused Chinese media of dangerously misleading the public in its early coverage of the epidemic, went viral.

“Although the first case appeared on December 8, media [did little] and merely ‘pacified’ the audience over the following 40 days or so,” Chen wrote.

Dajia also posted an opinion piece by Zhu Xuedong, another veteran Chinese journalist, where he argued that people should not shun relatives and neighbors who may have visited Wuhan and returned home.

“When people started to censure and drive away those who came back from Lunar New Year reunions [from virus infected areas],” Zhu wrote, “I think they lost not only their sense of the rule of law but also the basic virtue of helping one another with human kindness.”