The most advanced Twittersphere in the world: China


In a “Letter to China” New Yorker writer Evan Osnos asks “Does Twitter matter in China?”

Having lived here for only 11 months, I have never known China to have open access to Twitter as it was blocked by the government last June right before I arrived. However, I have been an active community member of China’s Twitter community since day 1 … well, ok, maybe day 10 after having to learn the A, B, C’s of VPNS, proxies, PPTP, LT2P, and other acronyms you only know if you have to.

I have been part of other Twitter communities all around the world — and I would suggest China’s Twittersphere is among the most sophisticated and advanced in the world.

Osnos writes:

Can Twitter really tie people together in a country where it is blocked? Before writing a profile of artist Ai Weiwei—published in the magazine this week — I had only a vague sense of Twitter’s presence here. It has been blocked since last June, which means that the average Web user who tries to sign on to Twitter from a regular Internet connection will get a page that says that the “connection has been reset,” or words to that effect.

Osnos key statement here is: “the average Web user who tries to sign on to Twitter” is blocked.

So who does this leave? The super users.

This makes China’s Twittersphere extremely unique. We’ve lost a lot of the bullshit that clogs up Twitter streams in Europe and the U.S. Users here are so committed to using the service, we are willing to go through all kinds of bassackward measures to communicate and share information.

The people that will try Twitter out for a week, send three tweets out a week on their dinner plans and than never use the service again — simply don’t exist here. If you see someone on Twitter, you can pretty much guarantee they will be there day and night and every day this week.

We also all share a couple things in common beyond using Twitter. We all face the same government restrictions and all chose to find ways around them. This effort unites the Twitter community in China. We all share a common understanding of computer systems and have a broader understanding of Twitter in comparison to an average Twitter user elsewhere. Jason Ng’s small sample of Chinese Twitter users survey points out:

  • The majority of the [Chinese Twitter] users has bachelor degree and the second largest group is master degree holders followed by twitters with tertiary education background.
  • The data shows that about 30% of the respondents are students followed by computer software and hardware sector (15%) and then Internet related production sector (12.5%). If we group the two into I.T industry, then we can see that students and I.T professionals are the key player in Twitter community as they together constitute more than 50% of the respondents.</li

Internally we have a community of well educated, tech-savvy users sharing information and dialogue from around a fast-changing country. However, our community reaches far beyond the Great Firewall of China. Our Twitter friends outside of the middle kingdom are China experts, political analysts and the likes. In a secret society, the voices of those that speak beyond the walls might be heard more.

Although I have only circumstantial evidence, this might mean the average China user might have more followers than the average user outside of China. Are our voices louder because of China’s ban on Twitter?

Yesterday, the Dalai Lama responded to questions via Twitter and other social media networks. While Mashable used the headline “Dalai Lama Uses Twitter to Circumvent Chinese Government,” in some ways it might be more accurate to say: The Dalai Lama addressed a very powerful group of tech savy netizens in the world’s largest blogging country. Some estimates say there are over 30 million blogs in China. Those blogs reach the world’s largest online population. Some estimates say China now has over 400 million Internet users. As an outlet to reach more ears — the Dalai Lama’s tact is both powerful internally in China — and acts a symbol to the rest of the world.

AFP reports:

150,000 Chinese are estimated to have Twitter accounts, with as many as 100,000 of them physically living in the mainland.

While 150,000 is a small number compared to the rest of the world — it would be pretty fair to say — many of those people who use Twitter are also blogging to to Osnos’ “average Web user” and the other 400 million Chinese internet users. The strong Twitter community helps bring information outside the Great Firewall but also streams lot of information into Chinese based social media sites like QQ, Rehren — who users far outnumber Twitter’s in china.

Some useful links

6 thoughts on “The most advanced Twittersphere in the world: China”

  1. osnos post seems lacking in knowledge of China and Twitter. Have been in China for 3 yrs and on Twitter for 1.5 yrs and I definitely don’t fit his profile-)

    1. I was a little surprised myself with some of Osnos statements – mostly because he is a good writer and certainly an intelligent person but seemed to really misunderstand Twitter (and certainly Twitter in China). I searched for him on Twitter and found nothing – so perhaps he is just out of the social media loop or possibly doesn’t use his real name? However, in my opinion any journalist who doesn’t see the value in Twitter enough to be on the service needs to re-evaluate their place in modern communications.

  2. Evan’s on Twitter at eosnos. He’s occasionally quite active. We’ve had conversations about Twitter and I don’t think you’ve said anything here that he wouldn’t agree with. Remember his blog post really only discussed Twitter in the context of Chinese dissident politics.

    1. Right – and his last graph before the bullets is actually very insightful. Love the ‘phone book for Chinese liberalism’ bit.

      The upshot depends on where you stand: For those who hope to see Twitter connect people from across a broad spectrum of the Chinese population, that experiment is thrilling. But it is also a stark demonstration that anyone who might seek to punish people for the kinds of activism and dissent that Ai advocates can use Twitter as a phone book for the ranks of Chinese liberalism.

      Thanks for the link — just found him.

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