China’s Communist authorities ban their own people from accessing major global social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. But when it comes to self-promotion they are increasingly keen users themselves.
The official news agency Xinhua, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece the People’s Daily, and state broadcaster CCTV all have Twitter accounts, as do a host of city and provincial authorities.
When the city of Hangzhou, renowned for its lakes and canals, looked to raise its international profile it turned to Facebook, the world’s most-popular social network.
China’s Internet users, who now number 618 million, have been blocked from using it since 2009.
But the city’s “Modern Marco Polo” competition — akin to Australia’s “best job in the world” contests — involves no fewer than six Facebook apps.
The winner, to be announced Tuesday, will receive $ 55,000 and a two-week trip to Hangzhou, in exchange for promoting the city on Facebook and Twitter for a year.
Michael Cavanaugh, a consultant for British-based PR Agency One, which has been promoting the contest, told AFP increasing official use of such sites was “inevitable”. But he declined to say how the winner was expected to post to them from within China.
China’s Communist authorities maintain a tight grip on expression — both on- and off-line — fearful of any dissent that could spiral into a challenge to one-party rule.
Some Chinese Internet users and businesses use VPNs, or virtual private networks, to bypass the vast censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall, and state-run media often use foreign bureaux to accomplish the same goal.
Hangzhou itself used a digital agency in Hong Kong, where Facebook is not blocked, to administer its contest — an increasing trend by cities and provinces within China’s borders.
The social media giant is actively seeking business in the country.
“We want to help tourism agencies in China tell the rest of the world about the fabulous things in China that are really not that well-understood,” Vaughan Smith, Facebook’s vice president of corporate development, told a Beijing audience last month.
Facebook is reportedly in talks to open a sales office in the Chinese capital, and in recent weeks the company has quietly posted Beijing-based job openings on its website, including one for a client solutions manager to “focus on planning, implementing, and optimising advertising campaign spending for the world’s top-tier advertisers”.