Using social media in China can be tricky, but with the right tools at your disposal, it’s possible to obtain consistent access to your favorite social sites. The Chinese government has strict controls over internet usage, but a little research shows there is a way to access social sites like Facebook and Twitter while visiting China.
How do you use social media in China? In order to access normal social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, download a VPN. However, there are Chinese-based social media apps you can use as well, such as WeChat and Weibo, that offer users a similar experience without rerouting network settings.
Using a VPN to access social media in China is easy, effective, and doesn’t require you to set up any new social accounts. Continue below to discover what a VPN actually is, how it works to give you access to social media, how to set one up, how well they work, and the risks involved with using one for social media in China.
A Little Background
Why can’t you access popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram in China? Chinese media regulations allow authorities to crack down on news stories by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country. The government is especially worried about content that could incite social unrest, like reports about official corruption, the economy, health and environmental scandals, certain religious groups, and ethnic strife.
Imagine what your Facebook page looks like — if you’re based in the U.S., you probably see post after post of political opinions or controversial news stories. The Chinese government has labeled social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube as potentially dangerous since they’ve spread awareness for government protests in the past, which is why they’ve since been completely blocked.
So how do you get around the “Great Firewall of China” to access these social media sites? The most common way is to use a VPN, or virtual private network.
What is a VPN and How Does It Work?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs are the key to accessing social media in China because they let you access the web safely and privately by routing your connection through a server and hiding your online actions.
How it works is a little complicated. In short, a VPN is a separate server that encrypts your web data. By encrypting your internet data and routing your connection through the VPN server, as opposed to servers hosted in China, a VPN allows you to effectively circumvent the firewalls the Chinese government has in place to block social media sites.
If you want a more in-depth breakdown of how a VPN encrypts your data and fools other servers, see here.
While it can seem like a big process to undertake, installing and using a VPN is an easy and efficient way to access social media while visiting China.
How Do You Set Up a VPN for Social Media Access in China?
You don’t have to be a computer whiz in order to set up and use a VPN. VPNs are a service you pay a monthly fee to maintain access to. PC Magazine explains that a good VPN service “should allow you to connect up to five devices at a time.” The average rate for a top-rated VPN service, as noted by PC Magazine, is $10.68/month.
Once you choose a VPN service provider, it’s usually as simple as downloading their app, signing up, and logging in to access your VPN. As soon as you log in, your information is protected, and you should be able to access social media from anywhere, even China. You don’t even have to fiddle with any of your network settings or connect your apps separately.
If you’re visiting China for a quick trip, $10 is a low price to pay to maintain your social media addiction. If you’re traveling to China for a longer period of time, you may be able to find discounted rates for a longer contract. All in all, VPNs are an inexpensive and efficient way to access social media in China.
Are There Risks Involved With Using a VPN for Social Media Access in China?
The short answer is yes, there are some risks associated with using a VPN to access social media in China. Technically, VPNs are banned in China. However, restricting access to VPNs is generally targeted to citizens and domestic VPN services, but as long as you use a VPN located somewhere else, you should be fine.
Most travelers and long-term expats in China utilize VPNs to access social media and other sites while visiting China. Don’t use your social media access to promote anti-government protests, and you won’t get in trouble.
However, there are continual campaigns to shut down VPN services, so there is some chance your connection could stop working one day.
Best Practices for Posting on Social Media While in China
You don’t want to get in trouble or arrested, especially for what you post on social media, and especially when you’re in a foreign country. China has many taboo topics that could land you in trouble, and it’s best to avoid them, even if you’re posting to social media using your VPN.
In a purge of 10,000 social media accounts, the Chinese government deleted accounts that “spread politically harmful information and maliciously distorted party or state history.” Anything from slandering heroes, discrediting the “country’s image,” creating rumors, spreading fake information, and generating clickbait can get you in trouble.
Businesses weren’t and aren’t safe either. Accounts that “disrupted the normal social order, participated in malicious marketing, extortion, or copyright infringement” were also deleted.
If you’re especially concerned or anxious about getting in trouble for what you post, do a little research beforehand, and ask your friends or locals if they think it’s okay — they live with social media censorship every day, and are probably familiar with topics to avoid.
As a rule of thumb, keep your posts PG and non-controversial. Follow the rules for topics to avoid on a first date — religion, politics, money, sexuality — basically anything people can have strong opinions about.
How Well Do VPNs Work for Using Social Media?
All VPNs differ from each other, meaning each one works differently. Free VPNs usually don’t work as well as paid ones, and your connection could potentially be slower when using a VPN, since your information has to be sent farther away, encrypted, and sent back. The closer the server, the faster your connection will be.
Some VPN providers have multiple servers, so if your connection is slow, you may be able to change server locations to troubleshoot your connectivity issues.
That being said, if you pick a VPN that is located close to China, your connection won’t suffer much, and you’ll be able to access social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube in China.
Use Chinese Social Media Channels Instead
Using a VPN will allow you to access the big social media sites like Facebook from China, but China also has its own social media channels you can sign up for. Instead of using a VPN to post on Facebook or send a tweet, consider creating an account with Chinese-based social media platforms.
The most popular social media channel in China is WeChat. WeChat is a messaging app that also provides games, online shopping, and financial services for its users. You can create a personal profile, or a business one if you’re looking to stay in touch with your customers.
Weibo is considered the Twitter of China. Weibo is a micro-blogging platform and acts as a combination of Twitter and Facebook. With Weibo, users can upload videos, images, and gifs. They can also follow an individual and read their posts, then like and share them, without being followed back.
The list of Chinese social media platforms goes on and on, but it’s important to note that content on these sites is heavily censored compared to what most people are used to. You will have to heavily monitor what you are posting on these sites to ensure you’re complying with China’s rules about what topics are protected by “free speech” and which ones aren’t.
A VPN will be easier if you’re traveling to China for a short period of time, but if you’re looking to use social media in China on a long-term basis, most locals will use the Chinese-based platforms, so it may be worth setting up an account to connect with your Chinese acquaintances.
What are the best VPN providers?
ExpressVPN, VyprVPN, and NordVPN are the most recommended VPN providers.
Are all social media apps banned in China?
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Youtube are all banned in China, but China has its own social media sites like Weibo and WeChat that aren’t banned, although they are monitored and censored.