Will Instagram Now be Blocked in China?

June 19th, 2015 in , , , ,


So, Facebook bought Instagram for a billion bucks. Right now, Instagram is freely accessible here in China and apparently has a small but growing user base. At the moment, Instagram seems pretty harmless to the Chinese authorities, in fact it’s just a simple photo sharing program which allows users to quickly apply different color tone to their photo.

The Chinese need VPN to access facebook in China.
Because Instagram is accessible from China there has been some speculation that it might provide a back-door into the market for Facebook. If Instagram is heavily integrated into Facebook’s core service, more likely the photo-sharing app will still be blocked in China …


Instagram, the popular photo-sharing mobile app, was founded in 2010 and it had passed the ten million user mark in September last year. Users can edit their photos with 17 digital filters and upload them to various social networking websites, including Sina Weibo, China’s leading micro-blogging service. Its latest Android version has attracted more than a million downloads within 12 hours after its release. Instagram users have uploaded more than 400 million photos last year, posing a significant challenge to Facebook since photo-sharing is one of the favorite activities of its 850 million users worldwide. So, what happens with Instagram now that it is part of Facebook ?

Not all foreign web sites are blocked in China. It does block the established and heavy-hitting sites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. But some of the new rising social networks which consider non-mainstream are not blocked. You can still access LinkedIn or Pinterest without a VPN account. There are a few key factors to determine which site stays safely outside the great firewall of China. These include the size of the user base, perceived influence, how closely the network has been associated with political movements, power to function as tool of mass organization, and whether or not the network has been explicitly associated with content that the Chinese government considers sensitive.

If Instagram is suddenly used to post a lot of pictures of a sensitive event in China, it may annoy the Chinese government, in the end it will get banned for accessing. A deal with Facebook could cut the access too, for example if the company force users to log in to Instagram through Facebook account. In the meantime, Picasa web album, which is provided by google, has been blocked in China for a while now. Flickr, another popular photo web album service provides by Yahoo, will be sometime unavailable due to Internet crackdown. The fact that Instagram is still keeping under the radar is because the user base in China is not ‘big enough’ to influence any social activities.

Meanwhile, local Instagram clones have been blossoming in China. We have ‘Q Pai’ from Tencent, and the recently ‘MoTu’ from Baidu. These Chinese app creates a mini social network, with tweaked and filtered images sharable to Sina Weibo, Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has just launched its long-awaited version for Android, but it is currently unsupported with Sina Weibo sharing functionality that its iOS app enjoys. Given the rising Android’s share of the smartphone market in China, this strange move might show the company is not intended to get ‘too social’, in order to stay open in China market. In fact Instagram can partially rely on Sina’s existing censorship capabilities. Sina Weibo is vulnerable to being blocked, but so far Instagram hasn’t been labeled by the Chinese authorities as a platform for controversial discussion or a catalyst for political movements as Facebook did.