Social media in China is breaking down barriers 15

This blog post was contributed by Alison O’Leary, who works in Racepoint’s UK office.

After a week working with Irdeto (a Racepoint client) out of their Beijing office, I’ve come back with a different view of the great Chinese firewall.  True, my broadband speed was pretty slow, I couldn’t access Citrix from my hotel room at all and trying to get onto Twitter actually crashed my laptop, but it’s not the picture of doom and gloom painted by much of the Western media.

Yes, Western companies are having to abide by Chinese censorship requirements, with Google the most talked about case in point, and we all know the Chinese government operates the world’s most extensive system of Web monitoring and filtering, but social media is really making a difference to its overall impact.

China already counts the world’s biggest Internet population, at 470 million users – already more than double that of the USA – and consultants BDA China predict that Internet users will reach 800 million by 2014.  And those users are making the most of it.   According to a recent report, the Chinese are twice as likely to use chat and three times more likely to micro-blog, blog and use video conferencing than American users.   The Netpop Research study shows that mainland Chinese citizens are “more likely to share information broadly and openly.”  Something of a surprise given the country’s censorship has been such a topic of contention.  Nevertheless, the study estimates that up to 92 percent of Chinese netizens use social media, meanwhile, only 76 percent of US netizens do the same.

What really came across when talking to Chinese colleagues and ex-pats during my time in Beijing though was the huge popularity of bulletin boards.  There are 117 million of them in China and it is here that many of the population express themselves, sharing often contentious news and views.  Some deliberately translate everything in English so that stories can disseminate at a quicker rate before being found and censored.  Check out as an example.  When you add the 221 million blogs and 176 million social network users who also use these platforms to spearhead criticisms of many companies and spread ideas and news, it’s clear to see the game changing impact social media is already having.

As time moves on it will be interesting to see how things develop but one thing’s for sure, with the world’s largest Internet population grabbing the social media gauntlet, the great firewall of China has the hardest job on earth trying to keep control of it.

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