Updated July 15, 2019
Instagram has become immensely popular since its 2010 launch and reports around one-billion active users every month. The photo and video-sharing mobile platform, while a way for friends and family to stay connected, has evolved into space where people can establish businesses; where celebrities and politicians can be more intimate with their supporters and broadcasters can further their news reports.Like other forms of social media, at its lowest common denominator, it’s a space to watch funny videos and make mundane contributions about our lives. But a large number of us seem to love it.
More than 30 million users are based in Russia alone, and more than 100 are in the US. This free-flow of information, however diluted or in some cases censored that it can get, is a reflection on technological advances in society and how we’ve integrated them into our lives. People are connecting now more than ever – even tasks like selling unwanted items are now mostly for the online marketplace.
Not all countries are as ready to accept this, however. Those that ask, “is Instagram allowed in China?” need only look at states similar to it. Those that are most oppressive on freedom of speech and expression are usually the ones that ban or severely limit access to social media sites. This means no Instagram in China, Iran, and North Korea. This causes problems for anyone that lives there or is just passing through, as it prevents contact with family and friends abroad and access to any alternative news sources to the state’s own broadcasters.
China’s banning of Instagram is part of a much-wider, institutionalized problem between the regime and its citizens. Five years before China banned Instagram in 2014 it also vetoed Facebook. Since then citizens have lost access to Reddit, WhatsApp, Twitch, Discord and Google too.
China’s Problem with Instagram and Other Web Giants
The reason Instagram is blocked in China, as well as other sites like Google, is due to unwanted influence from outside nations. China uses a highly sophisticated censorship system coined ‘The Great Firewall of China’ to quash anything that could potentially harm the sovereignty, and that includes communication. It’s the core function of social media sites that Jinping and his government have an issue with. Communication. Using Instagram in China enables Chinese citizens to access and spread anti-government material, and it’s also a chance for them to explore western ideals of freedom of expression and democracy.
China’s compromise in these areas was to create state-run alternatives. Not just for social media, but for print and broadcast journalism, search engines and video-sharing websites like YouTube. The problem here is that all information comes from the source that chooses what’s censored in the first place. The state obviously monitors these social spaces so posting should probably be done with a bit of forethought.
VPNs and How They Unblock Instagram in China
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) offers a secure and more expansive way of browsing the web. By connecting to one of a provider’s servers, activity on the internet cannot be traced by either the government or ISPs who collect this data. It makes both users and corporations safe from hackers too, and is essential for bypassing the Great Firewall and remaining undetected.
A VPN gives access to Instagram in China and other social media services just by connecting to a server outside the country. The website will be spoofed into thinking the user is anywhere in the server location, but the activity is still untraceable. Accessing these sites may come with some form of punishment in China – in fact, a man several years ago was jailed for five years and fined the full amount of his profits for running a VPN service. When selecting a VPN, make sure it stands up to the Great Firewall.
What to Look for in a VPN
The main thing to look for above all else in this situation is if the VPN can actually get around the Great Firewall. It’s important to note that not all can compete. But for the VPNs that can, these are the important features to look out for:
A Large Number of Widespread Servers: The more servers a VPN has and the more countries the network covers, the better the result for the end-user. It means better performance when browsing alternative news and entertainment, and there’s less of a chance of the servers being over-clogged.
Encryption: The benefits of a VPN are far-reaching but, without encryption, all activity is exposed to governments, ISPs and hackers. This isn’t ideal and especially not in China. Look for a VPN that uses the top-end 256-bit AES encryption for maximum protection.
Privacy Features: All VPNs worth their salt will offer 256-bit AES with a bunch of extra features for staying secure. Onion over VPN, Double VPN, a no-logging policy and an automatic kill-switch, amongst others, are all deal-breakers. The last two especially so. No logging means the VPN won’t store any data on user activity, and the kill-switch will cut internet connection in the event of a VPN failure.
The Right Providers for Using Instagram in China
The top three providers can be found below. To view the full rankings on the best VPNs for China according to professional and user findings, click here.
VyprVPN is a popular choice for people around the world, not just in China. Vypr offers unlimited switching on over 700 servers around the world. With its exclusive Chameleon technology, users stand a greater chance at getting around censorship restrictions too. It comes with a 256-bit AES encryption, a strict no-logging policy and DNS protection. It also has a customizable kill-switch.
VyprVPN is also one of the few providers that owns and operates their own servers, with no involvement from third-parties.
While the more expensive of the three, ExpressVPN shouldn’t be overlooked. It has more than 3000 servers in 160 worldwide locations, and also offers unlimited bandwidth and server switching. It uses its own zero-knowledge DNS for quicker and safer connections, a 256-bit AES encryption and comes with a strict no-logging policy.
Users that opt for ExpressVPN have the added benefit of it being headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a place where the law allows for greater privacy and doesn’t have any strict data-retention requirements.
As far as server quantity goes, NordVPN comes out on top with almost 6000 in 60 different countries; many of which are optimized for P2P sharing. Just like the others, it comes with a 256-bit AES encryption and a no-logging policy. For extra protection, it uses DNS-leak protection, Onion Over VPN and an automatic kill-switch.
Its exclusive SmartPlay feature combines DNS and VPN to offer enhanced access to streaming services with complete security. Since this feature is integrated, just connect to a server to make use of it.