Back in September we looked at a study which, somewhat controversially, suggested that 35.5 million of Twitter’s (at the time) 140 million active users were likely located in China, putting the country top of Twitter’s user league table, ahead of second-placed India, with the U.S. a distant third.
The numbers didn’t sit right with me, nor many of our readers, and with good reason, as Twitter access is heavily restricted on the Chinese mainland, with the country actively blocking the micro-blogging social network since 2009. And while many people around the world access Twitter secretly via proxies, the penalties in China can be so severe that, even in a country of 1.34 billion, tens of millions of people blatantly taking this risk seemed a little unlikely.
And that line of thinking might have some merit, as a new study has suggested that that 35.5 million estimation could be off by several magnitudes.
Indeed, according to one anonymous programmer, there may be just 18,164 active Twitter users in China, with Alaska cited as having the second largest group of Chinese Twitter users worldwide.
These findings come courtesy of Twitter user @ooof, who tracked the tweets of some 76,000 global Twitter users who tweeted or re-tweeted posts containing Chinese characters. This was achieved using data provided by twiyia.com, which contains information about the locations of Chinese Twitter users – specifically, the timezones they had chosen in their profiles, as opposed to their location, which can be hard to determine (especially if they’re accessing Twitter via a proxy). However, timezones can also be problematic for determining exact location, as @ooof explains.
“[Based on the data we have] we can say that there are less than 20,000 active Chinese Twitter users on the mainland,” @ooof said in an email to the South China Morning Post.
“We can’t see people from Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or any other big mainland cities. They are all in Beijing time zone.”
The survey’s findings can be seen in the infographic below (click to enlarge):