Despite Official Ban, Facebook Accessible in China

Posted April 24th, 2012 at 5:55 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese Internet users took advantage of an apparent glitch in the country's extensive web censorship program Tuesday by accessing Facebook, which is usually blocked in the tightly controlled communist country.

Internet users across the country reported being able to access the social networking website early Tuesday. VOA's Beijing bureau was able to visit the site using the prefix “HTTPS” instead of the usual “HTTP,” which is a way of accessing websites using a secure connection.

Steven Millward, the China editor at, told VOA such temporary holes are common in the so-called “Great Firewall of China,” which restricts access to popular foreign websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“We've seen glitches for a few hours, or even a few days, before. Unfortunately, things don't seem to come back from the dead. Not since 2009, when things got much stricter in terms of web filtering. So I'd err on the side of caution and say, unfortunately, it's just a glitch, so enjoy it while you can.”

Although Facebook was still accessible at VOA's Beijing office as of late afternoon local time, many others posted messages on another social networking site – Twitter – saying the Facebook site had been re-blocked.

China, which boasts the world's largest online population, says its online censorship policies are aimed at maintaining social stability, and that it will help stop the spread of false rumors and inappropriate material.

About half of China's estimated 500 million Internet citizens use popular local microblog services, known as weibos, which are more easily censored by government monitors.

Technically savvy Internet users are often able to bypass the firewall and access foreign websites using a virtual private network, or VPN, which redirects Internet traffic through an external server and helps keeps browsing history private.

Millward says there could be up to 700,000 users of Facebook in China, despite the official ban.

Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, when Uighur activists made a series of online posts on the site encouraging protests in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

Authorities at the time said they were “punishing” the California-based company for being a medium for what they said was a Xinjiang independence movement.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made several recent visits to China. His latest trip – a vacation to Shanghai last month – sparked rumors that he was trying to bring Facebook back to the Chinese market.

Zuckerberg has previously expressed interest in doing business in China, telling audiences, “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?”