Something is still up with Facebook in China, and it’s not traffic.
At the beginning of July, Facebook’s audience in China was around 1 million monthly active users (MAU) – still a minute fraction of China’s 300 million Internet users. However, today, that number has fallen to just over half a million – a drop of nearly 50% in the last 30 days. One likely reason: increased filtering by the Chinese government.
For its part, Facebook isn’t commenting much on the trend. “We have heard reports of users in China having problems accessing Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson says.
But the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Herdict project, a collaborative system designed to show what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility, is showing increased reports of Facebook being inaccessible in China in recent days.
Back in April, we reported on why Facebook hasn’t grown more in China, highlighting features of the local Chinese social networking landscape that pose a challenge to Facebook’s culture and mission. Since then, China has committed to a new level of Internet censorship. In early July, the government blocked access to Facebook and Twitter after riots broke out between protesters and police in China’s Xinjiang province. Users accessing Facebook in China got the following message:
But even before the riots broke out, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology mandated that the “Green Dam Youth Escort” software would be installed on computers sold in China, as well as those imported into the country. The software, which serves as a web filter, is intended to keep China’s youth away from pornography and other illicit content, but the disturbing question is whether it will bring China’s political and religious censorship to new heights, not to mention introduce a host of new and dangerous security problems to Chinese Internet users. Furious web protesters were happy to hear that the mandate was delayed from its original effect date of July 1.
In China, censorship is billed as a “necessary evil” in today’s world of “questionable” user generated content, and users have learned to deal with it, albeit frustratingly so. China has one of the most developed social application economies, with its robust gaming and virtual goods markets, but it looks like Facebook is not making significant inroads at the moment.