Facebook usage in China is starting to explode as the country's citizens figure out how to get past the Great Firewall of China to visit the social network. In fact, the number of users has septupled from January 2011 to February 2011. At the beginning of last month, China had some 100,000 users on Facebook, while at the beginning of this month, that number had risen to 700,000 users, according to Socialbakers.
This is still a far cry from the 450 million or so Internet users in the country, but it's a start. China has the biggest Internet population in the world, but it also has the world's most censored Web. Facebook has been blocked in the country since July 2009.
Chinese users are increasingly using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services, which are normally used by companies to give employees secured access to corporate networks, to get around the country's Internet censorship. Since VPNs use private proxy servers that encrypt data, they can also be used to browse the Web anonymously. VPNs have existed for a while though, so what changed recently to make the Facebook population in China grow seven times over?
One possibility is that the social network got a lot of exposure after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited the country two months ago, which obviously received a lot of media coverage. Zuckerberg visited Baidu, China's most popular search engine, but neither company disclosed the reason for the visit. Speculation has ranged from Zuckerberg merely going for personal reasons, Facebook being interested in striking a deal with Baidu, to Facebook finally reaching a compromise with Chinese authorities.