Apparently, China's "Great Firewall" is permeable.
Social media use in the Far East country has reportedly skyrocketed over the last three years despite the government's strict bans on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social-networking sites. This is according to new data by global Internet research company GlobalWebIndex.
The data estimates that Facebook users have increased from nearly 8 million to more than 63 million since July 2009, and Twitter users have gone from 11 million to 35 million. Despite these wild jumps in numbers, they are still only a small percentage of China's population -- with 15 percent of Chinese Internet users on Facebook and 8 percent on Twitter.
China's own government-sanctioned microblogging service, Sina Weibo, has 264 million users, or 61 percent of the Internet population, according to the data. It is estimated that China has more than 538 million users online, out of a total population of more than 1.3 billion people.
GlobalWebIndex's data has been disputed. Facebook has maintained that it doesn't have any users in China, and earlier this month it said it didn't have any plans to hit the Chinese market. According to The Next Web, the numbers given by GlobalWebIndex are misleading and possibly even false. GlobalWebIndex's survey size was 8,000, which is tiny compared to China's massive population.
However, according to GlobalWebIndex, Chinese users are getting past government censors by using proxy services that connect them to international servers. "Crucially, this means that users won't be picked up in analytics and will not register as being in a Chinese location at all," founder of GlobalWebIndex Tom Smith wrote in a blog post today.
Past evidence shows that many Chinese users have the savvy to sneak past censors. In February, thousands of users temporarily got onto President Obama's Google+ page and wrote him messages. Then, days later, even more users flooded other social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, and some also got onto YouTube.
Despite the fact that Chinese users are definitely getting around government censors from time to time, GlobalWebIndex's numbers might not be as numerous as projected.
CNET contacted Facebook for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.