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The number of active live Twitter users on the mainland might be as low as 18,000 – due to Beijing’s strict internet censorship. The Chinese Twitter user distribution map, published by an anonymous mainland programmer on Thursday morning, shows for the first time a part of the Twittersphere behind China’s Great Firewall.
The infographic shows that among about 76,000 active Twitter users who tweeted or re-tweeted posts containing Chinese characters globally, only 18,164 are from Beijing.
The numbers of those in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are 3,467, 3,331 and 4,558, respectively.
The mainland programmer, who identifies himself as @ooof on Twitter, said the data he used to create the infographic was from another website, twiyia.com, which has information on the location of Chinese Twitter users. His job was to extract and visualise the data.
The infographic posted on Twitter attracted Chinese users’ attention. Some said it was a surprise to learn that Alaska had the second largest group of Chinese Twitter users outside Beijing.
@ooof said the location information which twiyia.com collected were the time zones Twitter users had chosen – not the cities they said they lived in. Those who chose Alaska were probably people living on the west coast of North America, he explained.
“That’s why we can’t see people from Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or any other big mainland cities. They are all in Beijing time zone,” he said.
“[Based on the data we have] we can say that there are less than 20,000 active Chinese Twitter users on the mainland,” @ooof said in an email to the South China Morning Post.
As one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Twitter reached 500 million users by July 2012, among whom about 27 per cent - or 150 million - were active users.
But it has been blocked on the mainland since mid-2009, when many mainland internet users witnessed live tweets on the bloody ethnic conflicts in Xinjiang. The conflicts led to hundreds of Han Chinese and Uighurs being killed or injured.
Since then, people on mainland have to use Virtual Private Network or other similar services that can help them access Twitter and other websites blocked by Beijing authorities, such as Facebook and Youtube.
Many Chinese internet users welcomed the map, saying it helped people learn more about a useful tool banned by the censors.
Ben Crox, a Hong Kong-based programmer and the organiser of BarcampHK, said the map was a good reference point. “I have never heard anyone else do a comprehensive survey on China’s Twittersphere, so it is pretty good so far,” Ben said. “It at least shows us something we didn’t know before.”
Click here for the large size photo.