Social media in China does not tend to be Instagram, Twitter or Whatsapp – and Chinese counterparts are much more than just substitutes

Local providers dominate the market. Instead of copies, they offer products that are often more innovative, multi-faceted and easier to use than their role models.

Social media in China does not tend to be Instagram, Twitter or Whatsapp - and Chinese counterparts are much more than just substitutes

Anyone using social media with us will inevitably move on a platform controlled by Facebook, Twitter or GoogleAmerican Internet giants dominate the global market and have a major impact on how we find out and how we communicate with friends. The big exception is China, where Instagram, Snapchat and Co. play virtually no role. Access is blocked, and attempts by American platforms to gain a foothold in the market have failed due to Beijing’s resistance or concerns about their homeland.

“Seen from the west, you have the impression that there is a big gap,” says Manya Koetse, a Japanese scientist and sinologist who writes about trends in Chinese social networks on her blog “What’s on Weibo”. “But for every western platform, there is a Chinese counterpart that is often more innovative, multi-faceted, and easier to use.” So why use Facebook if the Chinese platform Wechat offers similar features?

The social media landscape of China

The separation of the two social worlds began in 2009. In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, the government inter alia blocked the short message service Twitter. In the same year after riots in the provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang access to Youtube and Facebook was blocked. The search engine Google has not been available since 2014. The exceptions are Hong Kong and Macao. The Special Administrative Regions are outside the Great Firewall, which separates the Chinese Internet from the rest of the world.

From the absence have benefited domestic providers, who do not need to hide in terms of user numbers and features in front of Facebook and Co. Launched as simple copies, they have some precedent over their American competitors in certain areas. For example, Wechat has long been offering a successful payment service with Wepay, while Facebook is still in the starting blocks with Libra. Live videos were also popular in China before the American platforms jumped on the bandwagon.

Chinese social media platforms do not have to hide from Facebook and Co.

Monthly active users on social media platforms

Number of monthly active users (MAU) on social media platforms, in millions

The Chinese social media market is dominated by the Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, which are also known by the acronym BAT. In addition, there are younger companies that can certainly hold the water for the big three. The best known example is Bytedance, which was able to gain a foothold outside of China with the Tiktok video platform. In addition, Meituan-Dianping and Didi were able to position themselves as challengers.

If a small provider grows, the big tech companies try to shop. The market is constantly moving and the competition is big. All vying for the approximately 830 million Chinese Internet users and their data, which are crucial for the development of applications in the field of artificial intelligence.

The Chinese apps are not pure social media platforms. Their services range from e-commerce and gaming to mobility services. In doing so, they use their social networks to bind users to their ecosystem. Those who are active receive bonuses that offer benefits and discounts for other offers. Thanks to the integration of so-called mini-programs, users often do not have to leave the app to buy a cinema ticket or order a taxi.

The government is playing along

The Chinese platforms are under the strict control of the Communist Party. All social networks or platforms that use user-generated content are required to follow the guidelines of the Chinese Cyberspace Administration. Subjects or persons who do not fit the party are excluded. The commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre took place in the media and platforms outside mainland China, but not within. All comments on it were consistently removed. Anyone who wants to register on a social platform in China must also do so with his common name.

The companies have large teams of censors and surveillance software to filter out what they see as problematic content. If the rules are implemented too lax, the platforms receive a warning from the government. For example, last week Weibo was not allowed to publish the list of trending topics, the topics that are particularly often discussed in the network. The punishment took place because the short message service had insufficiently removed illegal information and slippery contents in the eyes of the cyberspace administration.

However, the government not only makes itself known with prohibitions, but also has its own content. To reach more people, Beijing announced in January that it would focus on mobile platforms in the future. With success: Recently, a widespread on the social media channels of the Army video, which shows soldiers in an exercise in knocking down a protest, came on Douyin on nearly 90 million likes.

State-wide accounts in social networks are also reporting on the continuing protests in Hong Kong. With image and video contributions as well as corresponding hashtags, the users are successfully asked to stand behind the Hong Kong police, who defend the city against alleged “thugs” and “bandits”. Furthermore, the demonstrators are shown as unpatriotic and controlled by foreigners. By contrast, contributions with a different view of the protests can not be achieved through the censorship barrier.

It is very difficult to figure out how the vast majority of Chinese people themselves see this strict control. What is certain is that she is not only negative in her eyes. “When it comes to spreading rumors, nonsense and fake news, many people praise these efforts,” Koetse explains. “You also see a lot of frustration when a topic attracts a lot of attention and then suddenly disappears. Especially when it comes to social issues such as education and food hygiene that move many people. If such topics are concerned, users will find other ways to talk about it. For example, by exchanging letters, using codewords or communicating on certain images. So you see some resistance to censorship. “The blogger adds,” For the majority of people.

The most important platforms at a glance

The Facebook model: Wechat

Wechat belongs to the Chinese Internet giant Tencent and has over a billion active monthly users, slightly less than the Facebook services WhatsApp and Messenger. Originally launched as a chat app, Wechat has grown into a universal platform on which almost everything is possible, from video games to flight bookings. In addition to receiving and sending messages, you can upload pictures and videos that friends can then respond to, similar to Facebook. The very popular payment function is accepted almost everywhere in China both off-line and online. You can also send money to contacts via the messaging function.

Within Wechat you can download mini programs via a shop. These can be used, for example, to order a taxi, book a table in a restaurant or find the way to the nearest bus station, without having to leave the Wechat area. The companies thus have access to the platform’s large user base, for example, to play advertising or to offer their services.

The Search Engine Reddit: Baidu Tieba

Baidu is China’s largest search engine and the fourth largest website in the world after Google, Youtube and Facebook. Contrary to popular belief, Baidu, which translates to “hundreds of times”, is anything but a clone of Google, on the contrary: The founder of Baidu developed before the Google founders, a links-based ranking algorithm. Also the business model, according to which advertisers compensate the search engine per link click, introduced Baidu before the American competitorToday Baidu is also active in the development of applications based on artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.

The parent company operates numerous other services such as the navigation app Baidu Maps, an online encyclopedia (Baidu Baike), the video platform iQiyi and a keyword-based discussion forum (Baidu Tieba), which has similarities with Reddit and is integrated into the search engine. Users can search for topics, and if no entry exists, one will be created. Videos and images can be uploaded to these forums, and users can interact with each other. Baidu offers like Wechat mini programs.

The Chinese Twitter: Weibo

Sina Weibo is often referred to as the Chinese Twitter. “Weibo” is also the Chinese word for microblog. With over 400 million monthly users, the short message service is larger than its American counterpart. In its current form, the features are also more comparable to those of Facebook. Founded in 2009, the platform belongs to the Sina Corporation, where also Alibaba holds shares. Weibo is the first port of call in China to discuss new news. From the everyday life of many Chinese, the service is indispensable.

On the platform, users can write and share posts up to 2000 characters. You can do this with a video, a song or several photos. Other users then have the opportunity to share and comment on the post. There is also a live streaming and a stories feature. In the face of fierce competition, Weibo is also turning into a universal app. Besides more classic social media features, Weibo also has a pay service, a game center and a fitness function.

The other Tiktok: Douyin

Probably the best-known Chinese social media app from China is Tiktok. Bytwatch’s app has taken the world by storm, but in China itself, the video platform launched in 2016 is known as Douyin, which translates to “quavering noise“. On the platform, users can share short videos enriched with music and stickers. If you do not want to be active yourself, you can enjoy a never-ending feed of videos, with the next one selected by an algorithm. Although the logo, layout and functions of Tiktok and Douyin are identical, they are different worlds. This becomes clear when comparing the search results. Thus, the parent company ensures that it complies with the rules in force in China.

Douyin, like its competitors, is increasingly becoming a true universal app. The platform also includes mini-programs for various services that you do not need to leave the app to use. There is also the possibility to link video contributions with shopping offers.

The rural video platform: Kuaishou

As popular as Douyin in China is Kuaishou, especially in more rural areas. The name of the app, which was launched in 2011, means “fast hand“. On the platform, users can share short videos and interact in real time with other users via live stream. However, there are a few minor differences to the Bytedance app: the videos may be longer, and the next video will not automatically play, but users will need to manually select it. A karaoke function is also integrated. The platform has now received an investment from Tencent and benefits in this context also from an improved integration in Wechat.

Like its competitors, Kuaishou does not rest on its success as a video platform. For about a year, there is the possibility to link in the contributions to the e-commerce platforms of Alipay and Tencent. In addition, Kuaishou tries to become attractive for video game streamer, and offers on the platform mini programs.

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

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