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The strict internet censorship the Chinese government has on its citizens has led to some pretty amazing alternatives invented by its people.  In a country where foreign applications such as Instagram and Facebook are banned; China has started making their own applications to compete with western social media.

After Chairman Deng Xiaoping took office in 1978, he opened China to foreign businesses who wished to invest in China which catapulted China into an economic transformation. But even though the country was reforming and opening its doors, it was not entirely open to certain ideas. The internet was a powerful tool quickly – expediting communication and information. And, the Chinese government was afraid of its ability to allow users to freely discuss whatever from wherever in the world. Thus, the Chinese government erected what is known as the “great firewall” – blocking major foreign internet platforms and deleting information that it didn’t want its citizens to access.

According to Steve Fan, “Google is often blocked for obscure reasons. For example, if a word in query is sensitive, like ‘river,’ and if I attempt to search the same term several times, the entire IP address will be blacked out for a minute and a half.” The reason is because “river” in Chinese and the last name of China’s former president have the same pronunciation, the search is censored. Some other phrases censored are “Tibetan independence” and “democracy movements” where the links will often come up blank saying “page cannot be displayed.” Today, Google is no longer in the Chinese market, having pulled out in 2010.

However, it is due to the censorship that has pushed many innovators to create similar platforms to Facebook and Google. Known as Weixin in China, over 700 million people are using it since its launch in January 2011. The app offers just about everything from free video calls to group messaging and a similar look to Facebook where users are allowed to update their “walls” with the current events happening in their lives. According to an Economist article, in April 2012, “Wexin” added an English name “WeChat” suggesting the company had global ambitions. Its quick popularity owes to the easy-to-use program and versatility. Like Facebook and most other social media applications we are used to, you create an account which can be transferred easily from device to device with just your login information. Users can message other users similar to Facebook messenger or iPhone’s iMessage which provides Chinese citizens an alternative to their sometimes expensive text message plans. Lastly, users on WeChat are able to send money digitally similar to the US’s Venmo through a service called “red packet.” This was especially welcomed since it is the tradition that family and friends exchange cash in red envelopes during Chinese New Year and children’s birthdays. The platform now can even be used to pay for water and electricity bills as well as serving as a digital credit card for shopping.

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Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Zola Zhou

Youku is yet another platform created to compete with social media applications that are inaccessible in China. It is a video sharing and viewing that virtually is the same as Youtube. Users can create profiles, create videos, and watch a variety of shows and videos created from other users. Baidu was also created as a search engine that quickly dominated the internets in China. It has been dubbed “China’s Google.”

Unfortunately, while social media is catching up in China even surpassing some applications from the US. The Chinese government recently talked about being even stricter with its regulations. While China encourages internet usage for business development and more, China’s government still does not tolerate any type of opposition and the different views of information the internet brings from all over the world.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Albert Hlesh

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