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Goodbye HelloTalk


david387

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I used hellotalk for more than six years and posted more than 4,000 messages on the public moments section. I was a teacher at hellotalk for a while through their t4e program. They interviewed me to help promote their app. I helped thousands of Chinese people in English both through my moments posting and through 1on1 discussion over those six years. And the good thing I will say is I also received a lot of good help and it helped me to learn Chinese. I can speak fluently now.

 

But recently things have really changed there. There have been a lot more politically minded Chinese users  joining up and Reporting any sort of post that is even mildly controversial. For example I posted a question politely asking for the Chinese explanation why the Chinese Constitution calls their government form a people's Democratic dictatorship. I stated that in English Democratic and dictatorship are terms that are in opposition, and clearly said I did not want to have any sort of political discussion, but rather just wanted to understand the Chinese explanation of what these terms mean in terms of the Chinese Constitution. This is probably my most controversial post that I've made. So according to HelloTalk users complained and I was filtered so that my posts would not appear on the public wall.  I was not giving any sort of explanation of what I did wrong. This was not the first time this happened and in the past they would actually apologize and say my account had been unfiltered again. 

 

On the other hand there are tons of Chinese users posting in the comments negative things about America and I didn't even argue with them. I just ignored them. So I guess sadly I have to say goodbye to hello talk because they have now Banned Me. I really don't have any reason to feel like I did anything wrong, and I think it's really it more a reflection of their character for not explaining clearly what their policies were or what I needed to do to improve. They just said that people complained. 

 

Now I have tried to avoid the obvious which is that China controls this app and I suppose there are Chinese people who have been receiving a lot of information that is negative toward the west and they are overzealous in criticizing and Reporting westerners. So the bullies win and I lose and I accept that. there are better places for me to spend my time. It's really unfortunate that this app has gone downhill so quickly. I suppose they can't do anything about it because of the Chinese government's control on information inside this app. it was my favorite app for many years and now I'm switching completely to the other way of thinking and saying this is the app you definitely should have avoid and there are lots of other good ones like tandem which is based in Germany or even HelloPal which is based in Canada. 

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Sorry to hear about your bad experience.

 

On 4/5/2022 at 9:59 PM, david387 said:

the Chinese Constitution calls their government form a people's Democratic dictatorship.

 

Not trying to swerve the main complaint of your post, but I'm curious as to what the constitution actually says in Chinese. 

 

In Marxism, the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (Diktatur des Proletariats) means — counter-intuitively — that the proletariat holds the power in the state, and doesn't really relate to the English connotation of "Dictatorship" in the autocratic sense... just who is in charge.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictatorship_of_the_proletariat

 

I think there are probably similar problems with other politically-relevant translations such as 宣传  xuān chuán being translated as "promotion" or equally "propaganda" with little awareness (in Chinese-speaking circles) of the differences to a western ear, and of the negative connotations of the latter.

 

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I quite agree. I used HelloTalk for several years but ended up getting banned permanently a few months ago.

 

What irritated me most about the app is the heavy handed, underhanded and hypocritical attitude of the moderation. I actually had sanctions placed on my account several times for various infractions which, in my opinion, were fairly innocuous. The thing is, usually they don't even tell you that your post are being filtered or whatever restrictions they put on your account. I just noticed one day that I started receiving almost no responses to my posts. Only when I directly asked them about this did they tell me that I had broken some rule and had my account limited.

 

The other thing is, adverts with all kinds of skimpily-clad and sexualised girls dancing pop up between posts on the app, and HelloTalk does not seem to be concerned. Yet what finally got me banned is that someone posted a picture of herself(?) writhing (albeit fully clothed) on a bed with absolutely no accompanying text, so I left a flippant comment, "Nice picture of you contorting on the bed". Apparently this one crossed too far over the (rather nebulous) red line.

 

I feel I made a substantial contribution to the app with many popular posts in Chinese about various aspects of English, and answering countless questions about English from Chinese learners. I can't say that the app was extremely beneficial to my Chinese, but flicking through the posts was something to pass the time while sitting on the matong. I agree that recently, though, the general tone of the content has changed. Now there is a much more anti-foreign vibe. However, this sadly just seems to be a reflection of Chinese media and society in general.

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For example I posted a question politely asking for the Chinese explanation why the Chinese Constitution calls their government form a people's Democratic dictatorship.

 

My experience is that Chinese people tend to find certain questions insulting, regardless of how politely they are stated or intended.

 

Think of the way Westerners may take offense at questions that are perfectly straightforward in China, such as "How much money do you make?" or "Why aren't you married?"

 

It's partly a cultural difference (as well as political).

 

I once got freaked out when a Chinese colleague offered to get me some cream to get rid of my freckles - as if I had some disfiguring skin disease.  But he was sincere and very well-intentioned, as I'm sure you were.

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On 4/5/2022 at 3:49 PM, anonymoose said:

I feel I made a substantial contribution to the app with many popular posts in Chinese about various aspects of English, and answering countless questions about English from Chinese learners. I can't say that the app was extremely beneficial to my Chinese, but flicking through the posts was something to pass the time while sitting on the matong. I agree that recently, though, the general tone of the content has changed. Now there is a much more anti-foreign vibe. However, this sadly just seems to be a reflection of Chinese media and society in general.

 

Yes, I remember HelloTalk got completely removed from the Chinese app stores a year or more ago, and they said it was because they had to add "filters" to their app, and then they would be able to be re-added. It seems that since that time it has been perfectly fine for Chinese people to make crude remarks toward westerners, but the opposite is not true. The result is an unbalanced environment. 

 

I started thinking about this when I decided to visit some Facebook groups today that are for Chinese/English conversation, and I am under the impression there is some filtering going on there too (by the admins of the group). 

 

Anyways, what I said on HelloTalk was very soft gloved, and they must just be having to suck up to the Chinese authorities who are afraid to let common Chinese people talk with Westerners. It shows cowardice. 

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I recently asked for the block on mainland Chinese seeing my moments to be removed- this time the response was quite clear. Government restrictions.

 

 I am also an admin of an English Cantonese group. One member kept writing in simplified Chinese. He was asked several times to write in traditional characters akin to Cantonese or speak in Cantonese or English.  Didn’t comply and removed from the group - not sure by who. He thought it was me (told me by direct message) and that I was wrong to kick him out. A day later, we received a message from Hellotalk that we were reported for political content. Tit for tat I reported him for creating political disharmony against the unity of China. 
 

@david387 definitely sympathise with you considering all your contributions in the past. There’s definitely those who will take the slightest question as a criticism. I have also come across this with Indians in another forum  I help out with - had to ban a few who couldn’t be objective and saw everything as a racially motivated criticism of India. 

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I have no path forward now with hellotalk. So I'm just done with them. I have no other choice. I would say the result though is I'm a little less sympathetic now when it comes to the Chinese government controlling the social media. And I feel a little bit more free to talk about anything I want now. I even more appreciate that I have that right that I did before.

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I know some of you will have read these, but for anyone that hasn't, this has come up before. To be honest, I don't envy the Hello Talk staff their job and I'm not sure that, in the current environment, it would be possible to run that kind of site without these kind of issues. A larger company might feel a bit more secure, something as small as they are will be at constant risk of a knock at the door and being told to shut down. And possibly worse. 

 

Off the top of my head, all I can think of to do is charge for entry to keep it serious-people only. But then user numbers and ad revenue plummet, and the whole thing quite possibly becomes unsustainable.

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On 4/5/2022 at 9:47 PM, roddy said:

Off the top of my head, all I can think of to do is charge for entry to keep it serious-people only. But then user numbers and ad revenue plummet, and the whole thing quite possibly becomes unsustainable.

I was a paid user. I think it is currently impossible to have Chinese users and American/Western users in a public forum that is under the governance of China without having extreme restrictions. I think HelloTalk may be the only app currently doing this, having a public forum, and it appears at last they are reaching the failure point. Probably it is easier now just to talk with Chinese users that dare to bypass the firewall and go to Facebook, or small websites that are not firewalled, or else just have private conversation where possible. 

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On 4/6/2022 at 1:11 AM, Moshen said:

My experience is that Chinese people tend to find certain questions insulting, regardless of how politely they are stated or intended.

 

Your counter examples are all connected to you as an individual. This question was about the Chinese state. Taking offense when one's country is discussed is not a Chinese phenomenon, but it's certainly aggravated by the lack of free information.

 

I have never used HelloTalk but have heard of it. I did not know it was Chinese. Good to know.

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HelloTalk is weird. I got shadow-banned at the onset of the Ukraine-Russia conflict because I shared the vandalised Ukrainian flag at the Canadian embassy in Beijing. Meaning that I can't send images anymore and my posts automatically get restricted to my followers. Before that I have shared plenty of politics related posts, which often did get censored initially but after sending the HelloTalk team a message they restored it. Then again, most of my political posts weren't about recent affairs but rather about regional developments and general knowledge. People don't get angry at you for criticising China, just be sure that you don't regurgitate the Western narrative and on issues you only have a smatter of knowledge. 

You tend to get censored for word choice and not because of your political affiliation, as long as you keep things civil and don't try to paint a narrative they'll give you slack (as a westerner?). It probably helps if you pay for the service.

 

It's originally a Hong Kong based app, and in the past you'd be more likely to get censored for pro-socialist posts. Things changed since COVID though, together with the increase in Sinophobia in Western media. Do understand that HelloTalk is one of the few apps where the media bubbles of East and West, or rather North and South collide. Just because people are anti-NATO / anti-US imperialism doesn't mean they're bullies. Many of the "anti-Western" arguments you get from Chinese are the same ones you encounter on Western late-night television, but the difference being that it's accompanied by a laugh-track. You only have to go on Twitter or Reddit to find out that anyone who is pro-China gets absolutely derided and castigated. So just because HelloTalk doesn't fall in line with other apps / communities like Facebook doesn't mean they're heavy handed.

It's kind of depressing that most of you think there is no freedom of information in China and that all political discourse that is critical of the central government is banned. Just opening up Weibo or Zhihu will net you enough discussions on national politics, and if you want to go all out then search for local posts for the spicy ones. There is a however a difference between China and the West; political issues aren't left to fester. Issues like student loan debt, the housing crisis, maternity leave, environmentalism, etc. don't take the spotlight in the mainstream media for decades and then remain unsolved. The sole goal of said media coverage is to act as a pressure release valve, and to make the populace apathetic towards political/societal change. Home ownership in China is twice that of the USA, and China alone outspends the G7 countries on renewables (China's 266B vs. G7's 147B). And let's not even mention China's handling of COVID. Also, this meme:

 

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On 4/6/2022 at 12:15 PM, Weyland said:

You tend to get censored for word choice and not because of your political affiliation, as long as you keep things civil and don't try to paint a narrative they'll give you slack (as a westerner?). It probably helps if you pay for the service

There is extreme limitation of anyone who has not Chinese in posting anything that Chinese people can see, and hellotalk was one of the exceptions. I guess not anymore. If I were to post some of the things I see Chinese people right about America but replace the word America with China, how long do you think that would last? I would be immediately reported banned. It wouldn't make a difference if a Chinese person wrote it either. Do you agree?

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On 4/6/2022 at 2:48 PM, Insectosaurus said:

I did write a long reply on how bizarre it is to portray China and the US like they're somehow comparable offenders. Instead of derailing the thread with such a post, I'll offer  some western propaganda that you can handle however you want.

 Thanks for the link. Very well presented, researched and supported. 

 

For now, I'm just in a quandary about how I will communicate with Chinese users in the future, or even if I will feel safe traveling to China. Perhaps China would rather I construct my own personal firewall and either don't speak with the Chinese people or follow the party line. I don't even like to discuss politics all that much, but the limitations have become so strict that I'm treated as if I already a criminal, perhaps a "pre-criminal" (thinking of how "pre-terrorist" was used to describe people in Xin Zhang). 

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I'm in a medium sized hello talk group, and from what I gather there was a bit of a purge happening last week with entire groups disbanded, group members banned and definitely some "spys" who report anything/everything. My hellotalk group setup wechat and discord groups recently due to it.

I know HelloTalk has always had problems, but people seem to feel its gotten a lot worse recently

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On 4/6/2022 at 3:33 PM, malazann said:

I'm in a medium sized hello talk group, and from what I gather there was a bit of a purge happening last week with entire groups disbanded, group members banned and definitely some "spys" who report anything/everything. My hellotalk group setup wechat and discord groups recently due to it.

It's interesting to see how this purge is happening in real time. So I guess they're going into the groups now as well. I wonder if private conversations might not be too far behind. Moving to WeChat for safety? I'm curious if there have been any reports about actions taken inside of WeChat. 

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On 4/6/2022 at 7:07 PM, david387 said:

Moving to WeChat for safety? I'm curious if there have been any reports about actions taken inside of WeChat. 

 

Wechat is heavily monitored and censored.

I have both Chinese and non-Chinese contacts on my Wechat that avoid talking certain topics directly due to the censorship/monitoring on there.

 

On 4/5/2022 at 8:30 PM, suMMit said:

I was banned less than a week after joining. I'm glad, because it saved me a lot of wasted time that I can use instead on things that actually benefit my Chinese.

 

Best way to think about this really.

Almost always, I ended up wasting time when I found myself in discussions with random Chinese people.  

I am very glad I got banned.

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I should mention that I wasn't banned for anything political, I made fun of some pizza pictures someone posted. I had had a couple of beers and probably deserved the ban. There was something I could do to remove it, but I decided that I was not going to get much from the app other than wasted time. Honestly, I find trying to practice Chinese with people who are trying to practice English to be not very productive.

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