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WeChat ban on hold for now, but you can still try these messaging app alternatives

While a federal judge has temporarily blocked a ban of WeChat from US app stores, there are other messaging and social media apps out there.

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The Trump administration's ban of Tencent's WeChat app from US app stores due to national security concerns related to China was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Sunday. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed in August by a group of WeChat users who argued that Trump's ban was unconstitutional. 

"While the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest," the judge wrote. 

Even if Trump's ban was put in place, if you'd already downloaded WeChat, you could still use the messaging, social media and mobile payment app without penalty, according to a US Justice Department court filing. However, the US servers carrying your data would no longer work, so sending a message or a photo would have to go through one overseas -- meaning it would take a lot longer to send or receive anything. It wouldn't have been a complete shutdown, but it would likely have make your experience much more frustrating. 

While WeChat isn't a household name in the US, it's a massive social network with more than 1.2 billion monthly active users. Because it's such a widely used app, many Americans use WeChat to keep in touch with friends and family overseas -- particularly in China. People often turn to the app because it gets around pricey international fees for traditional phone calls and text messages. 

Until the legal situation is sorted out, here are a few WeChat alternatives that you can switch to for your messaging needs -- many of which have a strong presence internationally. A caveat: Most of these apps, including Facebook Messenger, Line, WhatsApp and Telegram, are banned in China. 

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Sina Weibo -- China's equivalent to Twitter -- may be the closest you can get to a WeChat replacement in China. You can sign up for an account in the US and several other countries, too. On Weibo, you can post messages publicly or send them privately to other users (though these messages are not encrypted), and livestream videos or post short videos, similar to Instagram Stories

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Facebook's standalone Messenger app lets you send messages or chat through video or audio on Android, iOS or desktop. During the pandemic, Facebook added a new feature called Messenger Rooms, letting you bring up to 50 people on and off of Facebook together for video chats or to watch videos together simultaneously. There's also a desktop app, support for screen sharing and more privacy features that have been added in recent months. 

A "secret conversations" feature lets you message with end-to-end encryption, if you enable it. 

Facebook Messenger is available in several countries, including the US, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

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The Facebook-owned WhatsApp is a chat app that lets you share messages, pictures and videos with others on the platform from your phone or desktop. You can also video chat with up to eight people. A big privacy plus to using WhatsApp is that all messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted, and Facebook says that "no one else can view or listen to your private conversation, not even WhatsApp."

WhatsApp is available in several countries and territories, including the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. 

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The Japanese-based messaging app Line offers free messaging, voice and video calls across iPhones, Androids, PCs and Macs. You can also livestream video, post videos and photos to your timeline, add photo filters, search through the daily news and, in some countries, join groups. You can also enable Line's end-to-end encryption feature, called Letter Sealing. 

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Telegram is a messaging app available on Android, iOS, Windows and Mac, as well as through a web browser. It recently added one-on-one video calls (which are end-to-end encrypted), and plans to roll out group video calling in the coming months. There's also a "secret chat" option for encrypted messages, too. 

For more, you can read our explainer about what's been going on with TikTok in the US. You can also check out our list of the best free video chat apps

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