'Is Facebook real?' China's internet users ask in frustration as Iran lifts its ban

China, along with North Korea, is among the few countries which still block Facebook and Twitter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 11:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 1:33pm

China’s online community brimmed with disappointment - if not despair -  on Tuesday after online media reported that Iran had granted its citizens access to Facebook and Twitter. Both sites had been walled off from Iranian users since 2009.

This leaves China, along with its neighbour North Korea, among the very few countries which still block Facebook and Twitter.

“Iranians are now returning to Facebook, yet we Chinese haven't even met Facebook,” one microblogger commented on Weibo.

“What are Facebook and Twitter? Do they really exist?,” one frustrated blogger commented.

“Is this how China demonstrates its 'confidence'?,” another blogger quipped, referring to the new leadership's slogan of "self-confidence".

Some internet users in China visit Twitter and Facebook via paid VPN [virtual private network] services. Yet some complain that VPNs had also been banned and could be unstable.

Others commented that Chinese social networking sites like Weibo had thrived due to the absence of competition from Facebook and Twitter. They argued that the government had blocked the international websites to benefit domestic players.

This happened only days after  Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg met with Cai Mingzhao, head of China's State Council Information Office in Beijing last week. The two parties  discussed “Facebook’s role in helping Chinese enterprises expand overseas”,  on top of “other cooperative items,” said reports.

Though it  looks unlikely that China will unblock the site soon, a Wall Street Journal report said  the meeting showed China has become "an increasingly important source of advertising dollars for US tech companies".

China’s censors have said on numerous occasions there was no internet censorship in China.

When China's state media reported Myanmar lifting its ban on Facebook in March, it said:

"Only four countries in the world still ban the website: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and another country". 

Readers, besides poking fun at the ambiguous report, also pointed out that Facebook was not blocked in Cuba, even though access to the internet in the communist country was rare and expensive.