A Snapshot of Social Media in China
With more than 720 million Chinese internet users, or “netizens”, China has become the largest social media market in the world.
The proliferation of China’s social media for the past decade may not seem that surprising given its population and growing economy. Even with the strict implementation of Internet usage by the Chinese government, Chinese netizens are some of the most active users in the world, spending an average of 2.8 hours a day online via their mobile devices. This is because for every Western social media platform, there is an existing substitute in China. Instead of Twitter or Facebook, there is Weibo. Instead of YouTube, there is Youku. Instead of Google, there is Baidu. And the list goes on.
Here are some of the most popular social media platforms in China:
Weibo – A hybrid between Twitter and Facebook: 261 million active users
Youku – The Chinese Youtube: 150 million daily users
WeChat – The Chinese WhatsApp but with so much more: A messaging app with over 750 million monthly active users
Baidu – The equivalent of Google, with 657 million monthly mobile search users
Why the censorship?
The statistics above demonstrates that China’s state-approved social media websites are more than enough to fill the gap created by banned Western media. However, websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were not banned since they were created. In light of the riots by Uighurs, China’s Muslim ethnic minority, in 2009, China began blocking major social media platforms as Facebook was used as the protestors’ main communication network. Also, there are various administrative regulations by the government, hence the online censorship now known as “The Great Firewall of China”. But does China really need access to those Western social media websites if they have their own Chinese version of all the major social media sites?
Although the “Great Firewall” poses issues for many tourists and expats in China, it is not impossible to break through. Virtual Private Network, or VPN, plays an important role in China for those who regularly access websites that are not banned outside of China. A VPN is a network that allows users to bypass certain blocked websites by securely accessing a private network. Millions of netizens in China have some form of VPN installed in their devices for both business and personal use. For example, there is an estimated 10 million Twitter active users in China despite its prohibition through the use of VPN.
Reflecting now on China’s social media, their lack of access to many Western social media websites has truly allowed China to become one of the most unique digital markets in the world.