Facebook, Inc. (FB) has over 2.23 billion monthly active users worldwide, with primarily no footprint in China. That’s because Facebook is banned in China, along with many other global social media providers. The Chinese government controls internet content and restricts, deletes, or bans content it deems is not in the interest of the state. This has grown to become a long list of companies.

Key Takeaways

  • The 'Great Firewall' of China is a strict set of censorship protocols enforced by the Chinese government to keep its citizens from viewing or posting unsanctioned content.
  • As a result, Facebook has been banned from China's internet as it has been deemed unsavory and incendiary, and efforts to launch Chinese subsidiaries have been failures.
  • At the same time, home-grown social networks that are under the watchful eye of government censors have flourished, such as Weibo, Baidu, and Tencent.

Timeline of Actions

The July 2009 Urumqi riots in Xinjiang, a western Chinese province, were the main catalysts for Facebook’s banning. The Chinese believed that Xinjiang independent activists used Facebook as the main source for their communications. Facebook was banned shortly after the riots, near the end of July 2009, and has been banned ever since.

China has one of the strictest internet censorship programs in the world helping it to obtain the nickname of “The Great Firewall of China.” Its censorship has primarily been driven by misuse of social media for fraudulent, corrupt, or anti-government practices. As such, China has substantial legal and administrative regulations for internet site availability and usage in China. It also broadly monitors internet censorship through several agencies including: the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), China’s State Internet Information Office, the Cyberspace Administration of China, and more.

“The Great Firewall of China” has resulted in a long list of site blockings. Facebook is not alone with social media sites Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, and Reddit also all among the banned site list. Google’s market share has also dwindled to nearly nothing with its Google China subsidiary efforts still heavily limited.

Each blocked site has its own unique story and its own unique strategy for approaching China. In July of 2018, Facebook took steps to open a new subsidiary in China with its approval repealed after one day.

Despite the failed subsidiary, Facebook does have a surprising amount of revenue from China. Its December 2018 earnings report showed approximately $5 billion in sales generated from China. TheStreet.com reported on this revenue shortly after the company’s 2018 earnings report. Details show that this revenue is "from a limited number of resellers representing advertisers based in China." Through this effort, which partners with Meet Social, over 20,000 ads are placed per day on Facebook supporting the revenue.

Who Is Successful in Chinese Social Media?

Globally, “The Great Firewall of China” creates a great deal of problems for internet companies seeking to innovate in China. Developments continue to be ongoing and tracked by the New York Times daily. China’s censorship has however helped many Chinese companies although regulations for these companies are strict as well. According to China Daily, the most successful internet companies in China include Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, JD.com, and NetEase.

While Facebook is banned, there are several companies that rival it with similar services. Companies like WeChat, Sina Weibo, Tencent QQ, Toudou Youko, and Baidu Tieba are all available for consumers and businesses.

How to Access Facebook in China

In addition to being banned in China, Facebook is also blocked or limited in a few other countries as well. In China, Facebook is blocked in the mainland but available in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Facebook is also restricted in Bangladesh, Iran, and North Korea.

Despite the ban, there can be a few ways for some to access the site. This is complex though and pretty challenging. Travel in China Cheaper provides the following three options:

  1. Use a virtual private network (VPN): This requires you to choose a VPN provider and pay for the service. There are several VPNs available and some that are blocked.
  2. Use proxies: A proxy allows a website to serve as your intermediary.
  3. Use Tor: Tor is a free anonymous network that runs from a USB drive.

Despite some small amount of activity mainly from travelers, Facebook has nearly no recognizable Chinese users.

The Future of Facebook in China

The social media sector in China is difficult and China’s Great Firewall makes it hard for U.S. companies to be successful there. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has been visible in China, making several visits and speeches. Facebook has been dormant in China since 2009 with its only fruitful efforts as of 2019 mainly built around its reseller network which gives it somewhat of a geographical foothold. While regulations and negotiations continue to be ongoing around China’s Great Firewall it appears Facebook and many other social media companies will continue to remain on the sidelines.