China Ban On Facebook And Twitter Doesn’t Stop 63 Million Users

Enid Burns for — Your Universe Online

When parents forbid their kids from an activity, those kids are bound to find a way to take part anyway. That’s apparently what happened when China banned social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter from the population. Citizens of China found a workaround in using proxy servers and the number of people in China visiting those sites is growing significantly, according to data from GlobalWebIndex.

A post on GlobalWebIndex’s blog discusses the number of users for social networking sites in China. Data show that in the second quarter of 2012, 63.5 million users based in China accessed Facebook; 35.5 million accessed Twitter; and 106.9 million used Google+. The numbers are still relatively small when compared to social networking sites restricted to China’s population such as Qzone (286.3 million); Sina Weibo (264.1 million); and Tencent Weibo (239.5 million).

GlobalWebIndex collects its data by survey. Questions in the most recent survey, which gathered data for the second quarter of this year, included “On which of the following services have you created an account?” and “On which of the following services have you used or contributed last month?”

The numbers for non-Chinese sites, most of which are blocked or filtered by the Chinese government, have greatly increased since July 2009. The firm recorded 7.9 million Facebook users and 11.8 million Twitter users.

An interesting fact of note is that when Facebook filed for its IPO, it declared it had no users in China. Since China blocks and restricts access to Facebook and similar sites, many users find a workaround.

“It only takes a little bit of desk research to discover that what is called the ‘Great Firewall’ is actually much more porous than the Chinese government would like to admit,” Tom Smith of GlobalWebIndex says in his blog post. He finds Chinese users are accessing these sites in a number of ways including VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), VCN (Virtual Cloud Networks) or work connections that are often routed internationally. “Crucially, this means that users won’t be picked up in analytics and will not register as being in a Chinese location at all!”

Not everyone in China is visiting Facebook and other sites from a desktop computer. GlobalWebIndex finds Chinese users are the most active mobile internet users. In the previous month 78% of Internet users in China accessed the internet via mobile device. By comparison, mobile is used to access the internet in the U.K. (55%); Japan (49%) and the U.S. (38%).

Certain aspects in mobile connections and apps makes it easier for users behind the “Great Firewall” to access banned sites such as Facebook or Twitter. “Our Asian market experts routinely see examples of this such as the recent discovery that if someone downloads the Flipboard app they can access Twitter,” Smith writes in his blog post.

The demographics of internet users in China who visit these banned sites are interesting. Looking at the users of Facebook in China, GlobalWebIndex finds 65% of active users are male; 69% have a post-graduate degree and 76% are under the age of 34. “It’s clear that younger, internationally engaged demographic groups are driving the adoption of foreign social media services,” Smith says.