News / Asia

China's Access to Foreign-Based Social Networking Sites Still Low

Chinese youth use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing (File Photo)
Chinese youth use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing (File Photo)
VOA News
A recent report that claims strong growth in Chinese Internet users' access to Facebook and Twitter is being rebuked in China, where analysts say that, although people are becoming more web savvy, only a small fraction of the mainland's Internet community has the tools to penetrate the government's online censorship.

The London-based Internet research firm GlobalWebIndex said that around eight percent of Chinese Internet users or "netizens" are on Twitter and 15 percent are on Facebook, despite both social media sites being blocked within the country.

But Michael Anti, a well known Chinese blogger, magazine columnist and advocate for online freedom, says that the report greatly overestimates Western social media penetration in China.

“The fact is [that] only one percent of the Chinese users can reach the free Internet,” he said,“If you depend on that [GlobalWebIndex's] number you have a wrong hope, and we can't live depending on the wrong hope,” Anti adds.

China's Internet access has risen dramatically in the past decade. According to official statistics more than half a billion people are online in China, but the government retains control over servers within its borders, and bans content it deems controversial.

Online social networking services with servers located outside China, like Twitter and Facebook, can only be accessed using circumvention tools. A virtual private network, or VPN, for example, is a technology that protects Internet communication. Companies outside China provide VPN services that allow users to browse the Internet privately through a server located abroad, thereby avoiding the blocks China imposes on its domestic Internet.

Anti says that though many netizens use these services to access sensitive information that the Chinese censors block, an increasing number of people bypass China's Internet filters for commercial reasons.

“Even China Daily [a state-backed news agency] has advertisements on Twitter,” he said, “VPNs [are] not only for you to reach particular sensitive news but also it makes the communication online safer,” he adds.

The global market research company International Data Corporation recently predicted double digit growth in the Chinese demand for Internet security products, with Firewall and VPN services accounting for almost 40 percent of that growth.

Most Internet security firms do not give details on the number of people buying their VPN services, or how consumers in China are using their products. But a 2010 study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University found that in countries where the Internet is heavily filtered, less than 3 percent of the netizens use circumvention tools.

Jon Russel, Asia editor of The Next Web, an online magazine on Internet and technology, acknowledges a trend towards more widespread use of Internet security tools, including VPNs, but says that the average Chinese netizen still has no real need to use foreign based social networking sites.

“In the absence of these services like Twitter or Facebook the homegrown networks have become very strong and very, very popular,” he said.

Sina Weibo, China's most popular Twitter-like site, has 300 million registered users, and has become one of China's most powerful platforms to share comments, videos and pictures online.

Censorship within China's domestic sites, like Weibo, is extremely common, and often implemented by the companies themselves in effort to avoid angering authorities.

Russel says that this type of self-censorship is more harmful for Chinese netizens. Keywords currently blocked on Weibo include the names of high-ranking leaders, like Xi Jinping, expected to rise to the top seats of power during the next Party Congress next month.

“Whenever there are very hot topics normally around politics you’ll find that searches on certain topics or certain names can’t be found,” he said, “That’s more of an example where the censorship policy is having a greater effect on Chinese Internet users.”

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
October 06, 2012 1:03 AM
Censorship is the hallmark of a dictatorship & China is governed by a one-party dictatorship. The CCP censors the Internet & media to prevent its people from criticizing the Party & demanding reforms. It's one way the CCP attempts to control the Chinese people & deny them their civil rights.

by: Mandy Chen from: China
October 03, 2012 4:30 AM
I don't want to judge the opinions in this article are right or wrong. The only thing is the picture is too old for now. May be it is 10 years ago. In the small town we even didn't use them in the internet cafe. But it is true that we cann't access twitter, facebook and youtube.

by: gas bon
October 02, 2012 5:50 PM
these people can access to social media,things are so diffient from computer by occupied by somebodys.if this is out.

by: remie from: canada
October 02, 2012 7:16 AM
Thats why they believe their fictional history and propaganda spread by their government
In Response

by: WEI
October 02, 2012 10:33 PM
i think Chinese should tell westerners especially American that the situation in USA is the same as China in cyber world
In Response

by: jonathan huang from: canada
October 02, 2012 12:49 PM
you mean protecting them from the harmful west propaganda?

In Response

by: Anonymous
October 02, 2012 10:30 AM
not exactly right

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs