SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHINA
By many measures China is the largest social media user in the world. The social media scene in China is massive and centered around phones. In 2021, the social media penetration rate in China was 68 percent, slightly higher than the United States and Japan. In 2019, the number of active mobile social media users in China reached one billion, While the user number have shown signs of reaching a saturation point, Chinese consumers have been spending more time online, with a considerable amount time spent on social media. [Source: Lai Lin Thomala, Statista, February 14, 2022]
Western social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter are are banned in China. There are really no popular sites in China that match up exactly with them but there are many platforms that share similar features and offer ones that Western sites don’t have. Many of them are cell-phone oriented rather computer-oriented.
We Chat is China’s most popular messaging app According to a survey on digital usage in 2021 in China, around 77 percent of respondents said they had used WeChat for social networking. The Twitter-like site Sina Weibo, the short video app Tik Tok (Douyin) , and its domestic rival Kuaishou were among the most popular social network services in China.[Source: Lai Lin Thomala, Statista, February 14, 2022]
Top Social Media Sites in China
2) QQ (Tencent), a popular instant messaging app
3) Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter
4) DouYin (TikTok), a video app site
5) Douban: a lifestyle and culture discussion platform
Zhihu, the Quora of China
Momo: a popular dating site
Kuaishou: a short-video platform [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
In the early 2010s, Chinese social media users changed platforms quickly and radically. “I’ve been here four years. In that time I’m now on the third dominant social network — first it was Renren, then Weibo and now it’s WeChat,” Chris Jones, the executive creative director at the ad agency Wunderman in China, told the New York Times in December 2014..
Social Networking in China in the Early 2010s
The leading social networks in mainland China in the early 2010s were Renren, which, like Facebook, initially targeted the college crowd, and Kaixin001 (kaixin means "happy," and the 001 was added to give a techy feel to the name), aimed at young professionals. Zomi was s another popular site. Studies at the end of 2010 showed that Chinese college students got more information via Renren's news feed than they did from search engines or other news sources.
Renren was China’s largest social networking site. Sometimes called the Facebook of China, it claimed about 165 million users in January 2011. A slogan on a chalkboard in an employee lounge at its HQ claims, "Every day the number of people joining Renren.com would fill 230 Tiananmen Squares. In May 2011, shares of the Chinese social networking site Renren soared after a dazzling initial public offering on Wall Street that, for a time, gave the start-up a market value of close to $7 billion. But soon after that Renren started shedding users and is now for the most part non-existent.
Describing the social media scene In the early 2010s, April Rabkin of the Fast Company wrote, “In some ways, social networking in China is much like that in the U.S. It has spread well beyond its original target demographic. Office workers stay logged on constantly. Artists, singers, and secretaries post status updates a dozen times a day from their laptops or their cell phones. Grandmothers grow potatoes on local versions of FarmVille.” “As with Facebook, the membership rolls are astounding and growing rapidly. In a 1.3 billion-strong nation where less than a third of the populace is online...Kaixin001, the No. 2 social networking site in China, says it has 95 million users. [Source: April Rabkin, Fast Company, January 18, 2011]
Unrestricted social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were banned in mainland China and only determined or relatively wealthy individuals with virtual private networks (VPNs) were able to get around the Chinese internet restrictions and use them. Chinese social networking sites such as Renren employed as many as 500 censors “ all of them centrally located in the Chinese city of Wuhan “ to make sure that comment on the site does not contravene Chinese information laws. [Source: Peter Shadbolt, CNN, February 20 2011]
The popularity of Renren and Facebook-like social networking sites,was very short-lived. They soon found themselves struggling to keep pace with booming Twitter-like microblogging sites (weibos), according to iResearch. One attraction of weibos is that were fast and quickly shared and it was easier for them to skirt the censors.
We Chat is China’s most popular messaging app. Since its inception in October 2010, WeChat has grown into the most popular mobile app in China with over 1 billion monthly active users who chat, read news, play games, shop, pay for meals and post their their views and pictures. According to the South China Morning Post: You can even book a doctor’s appointment or arrange a time slot to file for a divorce at the civil affairs authority. We Chat laid the foundations for stellar growth at Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, the tech giant behind WeChat and QQ, turning it into one of the most influential companies in China and grabbing the attention of global investors. Since the official launch of WeChat in January 2011, Tencent’s market capitalisation has risen over tenfold. [Source:Irene Deng Celia Chen, South China Morning Post, August 16, 2018] [Source: Irene Deng Celia Chen, South China Morning Post, August 16, 2018]
WeChat is known as Weixin in China. For many Chinese consumers, it is part of daily life. It helps them to pay bills, organize tasks, order delivery food and call a taxi. Official records from 2021 said that about 54 percent of WeChat users spent a minimum of ten to 30 minutes per day on the app. Research has shown that many corporation find this multi-use app crucial in maintaining their business operation and competitiveness in China. WeChat had 1.2 billion monthly active users in the first quarter of 2020 and 619.6 million average daily active users in September 2018. There were 400 million daily active users of WeChat Mini-Programs in the first quarter of 2020). WeChat’s penetration rate among 16-64 year olds in China was 78 percent in October 2018. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020; Lai Lin Thomala, Statista, February 14, 2022]
Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: WeChat is an all-in-one messaging app Users can get almost everything they need from their within the app, leading to its classification as a “Super-App.” Due to these reasons, it’s risen to become the most popular social media in China. WeChat offers far more than any of the Western messaging apps. In terms of comparison, it can be likened to a combination of the Chinese Facebook, Whatsapp, Google News, Tinder, and Pinterest combined. It also contains ten million third-party apps called WeChat mini-programs.
QQ is another instant messaging app developed by Tencent. The second most popular app in China after WeChat, it offers users multiple services like shopping, games, music, movies, group chat, micro-blogging, and voice chat. QQ had 693.5 million monthly active users in the first quarter of 2020 and 267.7 million average daily active users in September 2018. The penetration rate was 69.3 percent in October 2018. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Launched in February 1999, Tencent QQ was Tencent's first notable product. As of December 2010, Tencent had 647.6 million active Tencent QQ IM user accounts, making Tencent QQ the world's largest online community at the time. The number of QQ accounts connected simultaneously has, at times, exceeded 100 million. While the IM service itself is free, a fee was charged for mobile messaging as of 2006. Tencent also created QQ International, which is an English version of QQ that allows communication with mainland accounts.In 2005, Tencent launched Qzone, a social networking/blogging service integrated within QQ. Qzone became one of the largest social networking services in China, with a user base of 645 million in 2014.[Source: Wikipedia]
QQ has a popular instant message platform and offers videos, online shopping, search and games. It was described by Time magazine as a network that “fundamentally changed the way China’s youth meet, share ideas and entertain themselves.” Essentially an online community, it allows users to chat, make friends, and play games. Its instant messaging service has cute animations for popular expressions. It had more than 100 million users in 2007. At that time in China you were often more likely to get someone’s QQ number than their e-mail address.
Tony DeGennaro of Dragon Social wrote: QQ has a desktop version that is incredibly popular with white collar workers. Plus, QQ doesn’t require a phone number to register like WeChat. Users each have a unique numerical ID for their accounts. This was the most popular form of online communication in China prior to the release of WeChat. While QQ is still often used for corporate communication among white-collar workers but, the user base is younger than on other platforms and is more popular in 3rd and 4th tier cities.
As of September 2018, QQ had more than 802 million users according to Tencent’s third-quarter results. Making this platform another giant market for advertisers, and another popular platform for social media marketing in China. Businesses can open an organization account, which is known as a QZone. This was previously one of the most popular advertising channels in China but has seen a decline in recent years due to the popularity of WeChat. QQ has been facing stiff competition from WeChat Official Accounts & WeChat Work, a product launched by Tencent that is similar to the Western messenger, Slack.
QQ made quite a large pivot in 2020 due to the impact of the Coronavirus. With schools shut-down in response to the virus, schools scrambled to find a solution to help students continue their studies without interruption. Tencent quickly released a new feature on QQ that allowed teachers to live stream and share their screen in the already popular QQ group chats. Students are able to access the classes through both PC or phone and can even submit their homework through the platform’s file-sharing feature. Nonetheless, the platform did see an overall decline in monthly active users but it seems like QQ definitely still has its place in the Chinese social media ecosystem.
Sina Weibo had 550 million monthly active users and 241 million average daily active users in the first quarter of 2020, and grew by nearly 100 million users in 2019 alone. Over 94 percent of Weibo’s users accessing the platform through mobile phones.The average visit duration was 8 minutes 48 seconds in December 2018. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Sina Weibo, or Weibo, is a micro-blogging platform in China released in 2009. One of the most popular sites in China, it is often considered to be a combination of Chinese Facebook and Twitter, however, because it has character limits its label as the Chinese Twitter is perhaps more apt. Weibo users are able to upload images, videos, and gifs. Also, they can follow an individual and read their posts, then like and share them, without being followed back. Like Twitter, Weibo is often the platform most often used for discussing breaking news and cultural events in China.
Weibo is one of the three most popular social media platforms in China and is commonly use for social media marketing in China. Tony DeGennaro of Dragon Social wrote: It is specifically popular among young white-collar workers and the urban online population with mobile phones. Chinese people come to Weibo for several reasons including information, sharing, and the opportunity to engage with other users. Because Weibo is a blogging site, it acts as a large source of informational and trending content. Companies, organizations, and celebrities in China have Weibo accounts to interact with their customers, fans, and followers. This is one of the most popular platforms for influencers in China to work on. Since there are no limits on posting like there is on WeChat, influencers on Weibo can do multiple promotions a day, significantly increasing their income.
Tik Tok and Douyin
TikTok is a short-video app known with a global audience owned by the media firm ByteDance. Douyin is an influential China-based short-video platform — more or less the Chinese-based version of Tik Tok — run by the same.
Tik Tok began causing a big sensation in the late 2010s. It was one of the first Chinese social media platforms to become popular abroad and U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to ban in the U.S. because of worries that the Chinese government might use it to spy on U.S. citizens. In the first quarter of 2020, DouYin had 800 Million global monthly active users; 518 Million monthly active users in China (up from 400 million in November 2018); and over 150 million daily active users in China. The average time spent per day on it by users at that time was 52 minutes. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: “Douyin allows users to create videos in response to challenges posted on the platform, the first one that went truly viral was “The Karma is a Bitch” challenge. The challenge was to transform from an ordinary image to a bad-ass or surprising one. Westerners regarded it as the “Chinese Transformation meme” on social media, bringing a brand-new trend globally. Businesses can use the platform to post advertisements and create content.
Analysts estimated that Tik Tok's worth in 2020 was at least US$20 billion. TikTok reached 1 billion downloads in early 2019 according to statistics from Sensor Tower, a U.S. company that tracks apps. At that time SupChina reported: “Chinese companies had already produced several mega-apps, including the social media-and-everything-else app WeChat that also has over one billion active users, but none of those apps has ever had global reach. TikTok, by contrast, is an international sensation, with its addictive video algorithm making junkies out of millions from India to Thailand to the United States. [Source: SupChina, June 25, 2019]
ByteDance: the Company That Owns Tik Tok
Founded in March 2012 by Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo, ByteDance is a Chinese multinational internet technology company headquartered in Beijing, and legally registered in the Cayman Islands. Perhaps the best example of a China Internet company with global ambitions and international presence, ByteDance developed the popular video-sharing social networking apps TikTok (known as Douyin in China) and the news and information platform Toutiao ("Headlines"). As of June 2021, ByteDance hosts 1.9 billion monthly active users across all of its content platforms. [Source: Wikipedia]
ByteDance has garnered public attention over allegations that it worked with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to censor and surveil content pertaining to Xinjiang internment camps and other topics deemed controversial by the CCP and was singled out by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who wanted to ban in the U.S. As of 2021, important people at the company included: 1) Liang Rubo (CEO); 2) Roland Cloutier (global CSO); 3) Erich Andersen (global GC); 4) Kelly Zhang (CEO of ByteDance China) and Lidong Zhang (Chairman of ByteDance China). Among its products are Toutiao, TikTok, Douyin, BuzzVideo, Vigo Video, Helo and Resso. Subsidiaries include Moonton, Lark and Nuverse, ByteDance’s revenues in 2021 were US$58 billion. It had around 110,000 employees at that time.
The roots of ByteDance go back to 2009, when software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming collaborated with his friend Liang Rubo to co-found 99fang.com, a real estate search engine. In early 2012, Zhang and Liang rented an apartment in Zhongguancun, a technology hub in the Haidian District, Beijing, and, along with several other 99fang employees, began developing an app that would use big data algorithms to classify news according to users' preferences. This later become Toutiao, a Chinese news and information content platform that uses artificial intelligence to analyzing content, user-user and users-content interaction and combine that with the company's algorithm models to generate content and lists tailored for each user. In March 2012, Yiming and Liang founded ByteDance.
According to Reuters Zhang Yiming has plastered his Beijing headquarters with posters including a cover of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt's book "How Google Works", and has long said he will build a global firm that can compete with U.S. tech giants. According to the New York Times: Zhang Yiming’s goal for years has been to connect the world through his various consumer apps. Nicknamed the “app factory” in China, ByteDance is home to more than 20 apps, including personal financial apps and productivity programs. TikTok is far and away the crown jewel of ByteDance’s portfolio. TikTok grew popular for its short, catchy videos that spread quickly and virally over social media channels. Mr. Zhang took steps to allow TikTok’s presence in some of the world’s most important consumer markets, like storing user data on servers in Virginia and Singapore, and hiring heads of business in the United States. [Source: Ana Swanson, Mike Isaac, Paul Mozur New York Times, August 7, 2020]
Bytedance now has more employees than Facebook. According to SupChina in 2019: “Bytedance now seeks to take a larger bite of the global video advertising market currently dominated by Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. The company has made a series of high-profile hires and publicity appearances, including at the Cannes Lions festival, where Fast Company says “TikTok’s rising cultural cachet is palpable — and seemingly irresistible to marketers.” [Source: SupChina, June 25, 2019]
In the late 2010s ByteDance was ordered to shutter a parody app it operated in China while four news and content apps were suspended from the App Store and Google Play for offending authorities. ByteDance responded by doubling its content moderation team and developing stronger systems for checking content. In 2020, the company, according to Reuters, was "stymied by strains in relations between China and countries including the United States, India, Australia and Britain. There was talk that ByteDance could be forced to sell TikTok as Washington considered following India in banning the short video app. [Source: Reuters, July 27, 2020; [Source: Jon Russell, The Crunch, August 21, 2018; Wikipedia] ]
Douban had 300 million average monthly active users in 2016. SimilarWeb data shows that Douban had 170.9 million monthly total visits as of July 2020, The average visit duration was 4 minutes 28 seconds in December 2018. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: Douban is a social networking platform that focuses on expressing oneself and one’s lifestyle. Users often post on Douban to discuss books, movies, music, and events. The landscape on Douban is constantly shifting and trends emerge and die off relatively quickly on the platform. This is another platform that is often considered to be something similar to a Chinese Reddit.
The primary reason users come to Douban is for reviews, ratings, and discussions. Douban makes it easy for users to book tickets for movies and concerts, download e-books and even listen to their own radio station, douban.fm, through their interface. Users can also connect with each other based on similar tastes and interests. Demographically speaking, the platform is used mostly by citizens of Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Douban has a relatively low user base compared to other platforms, primarily because it does not require users to sign-up and create an account to access content. Due to the nature of the platform, businesses find that utilizing word of mouth marketing on the platform can be very effective.
Momo, China’s Premier Dating Site
Momo is an instant messaging app and China’s number one dating app. According to to DMR, it was the third largest fully mobile app after WeChat and QQ in the early 2020s with 81.1 million monthly active users. Momo had 108 million average monthly active users in August 2018 and 16.8 million average daily active users in September 2018. It market penetration rate was 5.5 percent in September 2018. In recent years it has faced competition from the more direct Tinder clone, Tantan. Momo went public on the NASDAQ in 2014. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Momo was created in 2011. It is free to download and uses location to connect users through one-to-one or group chats. According to The Guardian: It offers various services such as online gaming and local interest forums. But its reputation, much like that of Tinder, is for facilitating one-night stands. In August 2012, it had 10 million users. By February 2014 it had 100 million. [Source: Nicola Davison, The Guardian, June 12, 2014]
Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: “The app allows users to connect with strangers based on interests and location. Other than that, the company is trying to make the app more than just a dating site by launching a campaign to help homeless cats and dogs in China. They also offer mobile gaming and live-streaming, to improve the way users connect to each other on the app.
One of Momo’s biggest sources of revenue comes from advertising.Advertisers can target customers through location-based services as well as standard targeting options based on interests, demographics, etc. For instance, when users are searching for their potential dates, advertisers can place an ad for a local bar or club with a discount offer on their result sites so as to attract customers to pay a visit. Momo offers relatively advanced targeting for advertising, as users purposely populate their accounts with their interests and other relevant information to make themselves more attractive to other users.
Momo and Casual Sex in China
By 2014, the app Momo already had 100 million social networking users, but at that time it also had the reputation of being the app of choice among people seeking casual sex. Nicola Davison wrote in The Guardian: “When Chen Xiaozhe downloaded the smartphone application Momo, his intentions were clear. "My principal motive was to try to have sex with a wide variety of girls," said Chen, 27, who runs an online shop. To attract potential dates, Chen updates his profile with photos of his BMW or selfies in posh restaurants. It is easier to meet women online, according to Chen, because in person they tend to be shy, if money-oriented. "If I can manage to satisfy their material desires, generally they are willing to sleep with me," he said.[Source: Nicola Davison, The Guardian, June 12, 2014]
“Zhang Chenyi, a 23-year-old administrator with dyed chestnut hair, a cropped T-shirt and fake eyelashes, gets propositioned on Momo 10 times a day. "I want to make as many friends as possible," she said, revealing a typical divide in the motives of male and female users. "If I communicate with a guy on Momo for around one month, and feel that I understand him, I would consider going for dinner."
“While Momo's salacious reputation forms part of its appeal, it also causes problems. Momo was the only app chastised during the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publication's latest crackdown on online porn. A report in Xinhua, the state-owned news agency, described it as "hormone-filled" and a tool for sex workers to lure customers.
“Lately, Momo has attempted to distance itself from its "hook-up" association through marketing campaigns. "It could be controversial for Momo to be associated with corrupting young people," said Steven Millward, chief editor of Tech in Asia. "We've seen recently that authorities are worried about people being corrupted by US television shows. There's an attempt to protect the moral fibre."
“For users such as Chen, Momo is simply a way to meet like-minded people. "Face-to-face we pretend to be pure and clean, but we all have dirty thoughts," he said. "I am still young, I wish to experience the best of life and in all honesty I enjoy having sex with different girls. Momo makes it happen."
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times: “Lin Yang, 24, said he hooked up in 2012 with a woman he met on Momo. They had sex but “not at home,” he said, declining to be more specific. Assignations often take place in hotels rented by the hour, several people said.Mr. Lin, who works at a tech start-up in Beijing, said he initially questioned why a woman would get involved in casual sex. “I don’t really understand how girls think,” he said. “Then I thought, if I am doing it, why shouldn’t they?” he said by telephone. “I think they’re exploring their sexual freedom. She was so open and free.” He is currently seeing another woman he met on Momo. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 24, 2013]
“Xiao Bao, 24, a graduate student in gender studies, who asked to be identified only by her nickname, has hooked up about four or five times since she broke up with her last boyfriend. Sex was in a hotel, she said, adding, “You don’t always take it all the way.” “But it’s exciting,” she said. “There’s no love. It’s about sex.” The app hookup scene, with its high degree of secrecy and anonymity, offers opportunities to explore different kinds of sexuality. Currently Xiao Bao is dating Sun Sun, a female medical student who used to date men. (She also asked that only her nickname be used.) Sun Sun has tried to hook up via an app called The L, but “I haven’t succeeded yet,” she laughed.
“Intrigued, I joined Momo. A friend took a photo of her pewter-furred, caramel-eyed cat. We registered me as Fifi, with the cat as my image. Several nearby men quickly offered a “Ni hao” — Chinese for “Hello.” One, who called himself Dezz, was direct — and persistent. He wrote in English, not uncommon among the technically savvy. I told him I was a reporter. That didn’t deter him. “Wanna try it out?” he wrote. I demurred, explaining I was married. Not a problem. Plenty of women using Momo, he wrote, are in relationships, but “they feel boring that’s why they looking for a new kick.”
Momo’s CEO and Rules
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times: ““At Momo’s offices in a glossy Beijing office tower, Wang Li, the wispy-bearded chief operating officer, was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. His business card gave his English name as Wanderlust. Mr. Wang, who is from a small town in Shanxi Province, says he is aware that hooking up is part of the app’s attraction, but believes there’s more to its popularity — the serious issue of growing loneliness and anomie amid fast-paced urbanization. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 24, 2013]
“Growing up, he and his family knew all their neighbors, but all that has changed. “Over these past two years particularly, social changes have been so incredibly fast as people move to cities and towns,” he said. “Chinese people are fairly introverted,” he said, and in a new environment, “They tend not to make friends with their neighbors.” “I’ve myself lived in many districts in Beijing and never got to know any neighbors,” he said. “With this technology I can contact them.”
“Then there’s how the app can help people who may have married the wrong person find new life partners, Mr. Wang said. “Chinese people didn’t have choices before and people are getting to middle age and realizing they don’t actually get on with their spouse, because they got married for reasons other than love,” he said. “The younger generation has more choices, and I think that’s a good thing.”
“Mr. Wang said the app offers three types of contact: individuals making friends with others, forming groups like sport or restaurant clubs (Ms. Wen, the Momo spokeswoman, said there are 700,000 registered groups) and locating resources like bars or shops. The company patrols the app to maintain moral standards, Mr. Wang said. Log on and you will be warned that administrators will delete pornography or other inappropriate content, including soliciting for sex. “If both parties are willing to meet, we don’t interfere,” he said. “But the situation is that things aren’t always that polite or respectful and we don’t want that in our app, so we expel the ‘ugly customers.’ “It’s like at a party,” he said. “If someone drops his pants, well, we’ll kick him out. And we are strict.”
Zhihu: The Quora of China
Zhihu is a question and answer site just like the English equivalent, Quora. Tony DeGennaro, wrote in Dragon Social: Zhihu raised US$100 million in its series D, leading to it becoming one of China’s many “unicorn,” companies with over a US$1 billion valuation. Zhihu started in a similar fashion to Quora, but it has become much more in recent years. Zhihu users are highly engaged, with many posts accruing tens of thousands of upvotes/downvotes and hundreds of comments. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
While posts on Quora can be quite lengthy, it is common for posts on Zhihu to be over 5,000 words and cover incredibly specific questions. Users often include charts, graphics, and other media to further demonstrate their point and improve the quality of their answers. Zhihu has also introduced several new features which Quora has yet to emulate, zhihu live for china marketing Popular Zhihu answerers can open their own “column” and write essays, without having to answer any specific question
Zhihu readers can voluntarily “tip” the authors of essays they like. This function utilizes the WeChat wallet and instantly transfers money into the author’s account. Most people tip 2 RMB (about 30 cents), but some tip more. This is entirely voluntary, yet people utilize it. It’s a way to reward authors for good content and to provide incentive writers to contribute better quality content.
Zhihu had 160 million registered users in June 2018 and 7.05 million average daily active users in September 2018. The average visit duration was 4 minutes 36 seconds in December 2018. In terms of demographics, Zhihu users are highly educated, wealthier than average, and concentrated in tier 1 and tier 2 cities.
Kuaishou, Low-Brow Tik Tok
Kuaishou (Kwai) — owned Tencent — is a popular video sharing site with around 212 million monthly active users. It is popular in China and outside it, topping Google Play’s and Apple App Store’s “most downloaded” lists in eight other countries. Founded in 2011 by Hua Xu in Beijing, Kuaishou is also a popular live-streaming app. It began as a GIF-making app known as “GIF Kuaishou,”. It transitions into video sharing website began in late 2012. It has received investment from a number of companies including Sequoia Capital, but its most its money has come from Tencent.
The majority of users on Kuaishou are from tier-2 cities or below with a comparatively low educational level (high school or below). As of November 2017, Kuaishou had more than 700 million registered users. Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: Users on the platform create, view, and engage with short videos. In a study done by QuestMobile in February 2018, it was found that users spent an average of 63 minutes on the app. The videos are able to be played rapidly, keeping users engaged and constantly hungry for new content. Videos on the platform have a maximum length of 57 seconds, making them easy to watch on mobile and on the go. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
In December 2018, Kuaishou introduced a new feature, a game center, that allows users to play games within the same app, trying to pave their way into an all-in-one entertainment app like Wechat. The platform is known for being used outside of China’s top tier cities, resulting in different types of content that can be found on other platforms. They recently landed themselves in hot water with the government after users began uploading videos promoting counterfeits and reform after being reported to have users uploading contents such as promoting counterfeits and glorifying the lives of pregnant teenagers. This resulted in harsh statements from the government, with some even saying that their failure to curate their content and prevent this type of content from being posted to the platform “approaches a legal boundary.” Since then they’ve updated their algorithms to more closely monitor content.
Government Control of Social Media in China
The powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) watches over social media content in China and censors online information and block some websites. It establishes rules to govern content on the internet and sets up regulations that address problems that all countries face, such as fake news, misinformation and online fraud.
In September 2013, Chinese authorities said that social-media users who posted comments considered to be slanderous could face prison if the posts attracted wide attention. A document posted as judicial interpretation on state-media websites said “Internet users will face charges of defamation — and a possible three-year prison term — if they create slanderous content that attracts at least 5,000 hits or is reposted at least 500 times. The document said slanderous posts that cause "psychological imbalance, self-mutilation, suicide or other serious consequences" would also be considered defamatory. [Source: Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2013]
In 2016, the CAC cracked down on news reports spread via social media. It said reports such as 1) “The decay of moral standards in villages in northeastern China”, 2) “ Arson on a bus in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province” and 3) “A girl from Shanghai flees from a Lunar New Year dinner at her boyfriend’s family home in the south because of appalling living conditions were judged to be based on false information spread through social media platforms and should blocked.. “It is strictly forbidden for websites not to specify or to falsify news sources and to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts,” the Cyberspace Administration said.[Source: Edward Wong and Vanessa Piao, Sinosphere, New York Times, July 5, 2016]
In January 2019, the CAC announced that it run a six-month “special campaign” to “clean up the online ecology”. David Bandurski wrote in the China Media Project The campaign, to be conducted in four phases, will target websites of all kinds , mobile apps , forums and message boards , instant messaging tools , video streaming platforms and other services that disseminate 12 categories of content, as follows: 1) pornographic or obscene; 2) vulgar; 3) violent; 4) frightening and horror; 5) fraudulent and gambling; 6) online rumour; 7) feudal superstition; 8) deriding or spoofing; 9) threatening or menacing; 10) sensational headlines; 11) inciting hatred; and 12) broadcasting harmful lifestyles and harmful popular culture . The CAC said the campaign would investigate and shut down illegal websites and accounts, “effectively preventing the power of harmful information to bounce back and return.” [Source:David Bandurski, China Media Project, January 5, 2019]
On January 3, 2019 CAC authorities in Beijing targeted accounts and products on Sohu’s mobile-based platform, Sohu WAP ( WAP ), the Sohu News app, and certain Baidu products, calling in the managers responsible for discussions. The Sohu News app and Sohu WAP were ordered to suspend posting of new content for one week. Content suspensions were also ordered for Baidu’s mobile search engine , the “Recommendations” section of the Baidu News App (“ ”), and the “Women’s Channel” , “Comedy Channel” and “Feelings Channel” of the Baidu APP.
Chinese Briefly Debate Sensitive Topics on Clubhouse Before Its Blocked
In February 2021, the Financial Times reported: “Chinese internet users are offering hefty sums of cash to gain access to Clubhouse, the invitation-only audio chat app, where they can speak openly about sensitive topics without government censorship. Chinese users have flocked to Clubhouse to exchange opinions ranging from support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong to doubts over one-party rule in the nation, which on other platforms fall foul of Beijing’s strict internet controls. “People want to know what has really happened in Xinjiang or Hong Kong,” said Fang Kecheng, a communications professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, referring to Beijing’s incarceration of an estimated 1m Muslim Uighurs in the western Chinese province described by the US as “genocide”. [Source: Sun Yu, Financial Times, February 7, 2021]
The next day the New York Times reported: “One by one, the chatroom participants took the digital microphone as thousands quietly listened in. A Chinese man said he did not know whether to believe the widespread reports of concentration camps for Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang. Then a Uighur woman spoke up, calmly explaining that she was certain of the camps’ existence because her relatives had been among those interned. A man from Taiwan chimed in to urge understanding on all sides, while another from Hong Kong praised the woman for her courage in coming forward. “It was a rare moment of cross-border dialogue with people on the mainland of China, who are usually separated from the rest of the online world by the Great Firewall. For a short time, they found an open forum on the social media app, Clubhouse, to discuss contentious topics, free from the usual constraints of the country’s tightly controlled internet.[Source: Amy Chang Chien and Amy Qin, New York Times, February 8, 2021]
But hours later, “the inevitable happened: The Chinese censors moved in. Many mainland users reported receiving error messages when they tried to use the platform. Some said they could only access the app by tunneling through the digital border using a VPN, or virtual private network. Within hours, more than a thousand users had tuned in to hear a discussion about the ban in a chatroom titled “Walled off, so now what?” Searches for “Clubhouse” on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo were blocked.
Trump Ban on WeChat and TikTok
In August 2020, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced sweeping restrictions on TikTok and WeChat as part its confrontation with China. The New York Times reported: “Two executive orders, which took effect 45 days after they were issued, cited national security concerns to bar any transactions with WeChat or TikTok by any person or involving any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.[Source: Ana Swanson, Mike Isaac, Paul Mozur New York Times, August 7, 2020]
“Mr. Trump’s advisers have zeroed in on technology companies, which they say are beholden to the Chinese government through security laws.” In the announcement, Mr. Trump accused WeChat and TikTokof providing a channel for the Chinese Communist Party to obtain Americans’ proprietary information, keep tabs on Chinese citizens abroad and carry out disinformation campaigns to benefit China’s interest. “The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” the president wrote.
“WeChat is used widely around the world, particularly by people of Chinese descent, to communicate with friends, read news and carry out business transactions, and such a ban could effectively cut off much informal communication between people in China and the United States. TikTok was in talks with at least three other American companies, including Microsoft, regarding a potential acquisition of TikTok’s business. A week before Trump’s announcement Microsoft said it planned to pursue the negotiations for a purchase of TikTok’s service in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“The threat of an outright ban on transactions is a serious blow for ByteDance and Zhang Yiming, the company’s chief executive, whose goal for years has been to connect the world through his various consumer apps. For many in China, the ban of WeChat will be a bigger deal. TikTok does not operate in China, where ByteDance instead offers an equivalent service, called Douyin. The order appeared to ban transactions between U.S. companies and Tencent, the owner of WeChat. Such a block would become a major difficulty for American firms in China, which use the ubiquitous WeChat social media app to do marketing, advertising and after-sales service.
“Concern has been growing among Trump administration officials that WeChat offers the Chinese government not merely a way to gather data and information within the United States, but also a potent channel for spreading alternative narratives and disinformation. In the end the executive orders were blocked from taking effect by legal action taken by ByteDance and Tencent and rescinded altogether after Trump left office. In June 2021, new U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the Trump administration ban on TikTok, and instead ordered the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the app to determine if it poses a threat to U.S. national security.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2022