Despite the fact that Twitter and Facebook are technically blocked in China, the two services are among the most widely used in the region outside of China-based options, according to data from market researcher GlobalWebIndex (see graph, bottom).
When asked which services they had contributed to in the last month, 25 per cent of surveyed Chinese users said they had used Google+, 15 per cent used Facebook, and 8 per cent accessed Twitter. The most popular option in China was Qzone (66 per cent), followed by Sina Weibo (61 per cent), and Tencent Weibo (56 per cent).
GlobalWebIndex has been tracking the growth of social media use in China since 2009. At that point, there were 11.8 million Twitter users there, a number that grew to 35 million in the second quarter of 2012. Facebook use, meanwhile, jumped from 7.9 million to 65.2 million during the same time period, said GlobalWebIndex founder Tom Smith.
Still, China's market is so enormous that Twitter and Facebook only represent 8 and 15 per cent of the country's entire Internet-accessing population, respectively.
But the question remains: how do Chinese users access Facebook and Twitter? According to Smith, people are using virtual private networks (VPNs), virtual cloud networks (VCNs), or internationally routed connections, meaning users won't be picked up by analytics and won't actually register as being in a Chinese location.
China's active mobile community also has easy access to apps for Facebook and Twitter, and Smith reports that millions of students study abroad, or have families with relatives overseas.
"In short," Smith said, "the 'Great Firewall' is not as solid as many people think."
In November, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg told US talk show host Charlie Rose that while they'd like for Facebook to be officially connected to the country's massive population, it is "not something we're focused on now."
Earlier in the year, Facebook lobbyist Adam Conner told the Wall Street Journal if Facebook were to gain entry into China and other countries, that company would probably wind up blocking certain content because Facebook allows "too much, maybe, free speech" for some governments to handle.
Google, meanwhile, has been skating on thin ice in China since early 2010, when the search giant reported attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. As a result, Google said it would no longer censor search results in the country, but later settled on a hybrid approach to remain in the country.
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