The Chinese government has a strict digital policy. Known as the Great Firewall of China, the policy restricts foreign social networks, only recognizing Chinese social media as legitimate. Despite this interdiction, users are finding ways to get through and access foreign sites such as Twitter. An anonymous source from within Twitter spoke to TechCrunch about the latest numbers in the Asian nation, estimating there are around 10 million active tweeters in China. Considering the Great Firewall and the measures the government is taking to block it, it sounds like a impressive figure.
A way to get around the government ban
These figures are just approximations. Twitter itself does not know exactly how large the user base across China is due to the high use of VPN’s. VPN’s allow users to bypass the Great Firewall by connecting to servers abroad, cloaking their real location. This allows them to access sites banned in China such as Twitter but prevents data from being collected on the precise location of the user.
The meaning of these figures
If you take a closer look at the figures, compared to the global Twitter figures, 10 million users is actually quite small. Worldwide there are some 310 million Twitter users with a reported 65 million active users in the United States alone.
The figure also pales in comparison to the reported number of users of Chinse social media. According to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) there are over 680 million internet users in China.
The success of Chinese social networks such as WeChat and Weibo and ongoing government restrictions means it is unlikely the number of users of foreign networks will grow significantly in China in the near future.
So why is figure important?
Founder for anti-censorship group Great Fire, Charlie Smith (pseudonym), told TechCrunch “there are growing pockets of ordinary people who want to circumvent censorship so they can access whatever information they choose”.
He acknowledged the role the Twitter figures play in identifying these people. “It’s fantastic that Twitter can provide us with an indication of how big this group might be.”
Mr Smith went on to say, “If there are 10 million Chinese on Twitter that is great news. Twitter is one of the last great bastions of relatively free speech. When was the last time 10 million Chinese could freely say what they feel, on any platform, without fear of reprisal?”
So could this social media trend promote changes to government policy? Could it be a move to a more open internet era is China? It remains to be seen, but it is obvious there is a demand from the audience for more information in a country where all media is under control.