China loses 27.8 million microblog users in 2013 (Update)

Jan 17, 2014 by Didi Tang

The number of online microblog users in China dropped by more than 27.8 million last year, marking the first major decline in popularity of a social media genre that has offered a way to share unfiltered information in a country with strict controls.

The drop comes amid a crackdown on microblogs deemed sensitive by government authorities and new controls on what can be posted and reposted, and reflects an overall decline in use of traditional social media in China that once had explosive growth. At the same time, Chinese Web users are migrating to cellphone-based instant messaging services, giving a huge boost to the mobile applications that have increasingly incorporated social media functions, including microblog-like features.

The China Internet Network Information Center said in an annual report Thursday that there were 281 million users of Twitter-like microblogs such as Sina Weibo at the end of 2013, down 9 percent from the previous year. It also reported an overall decline in users of social media as a percentage of the entire population of Internet users.

"I think there are several reasons, with the crackdown being one," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "People don't want to get into trouble, and they have found other means of communications."

One prominent alternative is WeChat, a mobile instant-messaging service that has risen in popularity since 2012 and has threatened the dominance of Sina Weibo in information sharing.

Statistics from the information center show that mobile instant-messaging services experienced rapid growth in 2013, adding 78.6 million users, or 22.3 percent.

The field leader is WeChat, which allows users to share information within circles of friends or open a public account that others can subscribe to, similar to the Twitter feature of having followers, but without a word limit.

The decline in online social media, especially in microblogging—known in Chinese as weibo—was palpable last year, following a heavy-handed government campaign against what it considered rumors, negativity and unruliness in online discourse. A new legal interpretation allows the government to jail microbloggers who post false information that has been reposted 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.

"It has squeezed off some bubbles, and people have become more cautious in forwarding messages," said Shen Yang, a professor of information management at Wuhan University in central China.

"At its heyday, the viewpoint was that weibo could change everything, but it overlooked the transformation China could have on it."

The government shut down numerous microblogging accounts and arrested dozens of microbloggers on the charge of spreading rumors or unrelated charges, in a campaign observers said was aimed at stifling criticism of the government and ruling Communist Party.

By late 2013, governments at all levels and state media had a major presence on China's microblog sites in a concerted effort to control the public discourse there.

In November, a top propaganda official declared a victory when asked to comment on the state of China's formerly vibrant microblog-sphere.

"If we should describe the online environment in the past as good mingling with the bad, the sky of the cyberspace has cleared up now because we have cracked down on online rumors," said Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the State Internet Information Office.

Explore further: China web users surge to 618 million

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China web users surge to 618 million

Jan 16, 2014

The number of web users in China has surged to 618 million, a government agency said Thursday, underscoring the rapid growth of online connectivity in the country with the world's largest Internet population.

China claims victory in scrubbing Internet clean

Nov 30, 2013

The Chinese government has declared victory in cleaning up what it considers rumors, negativity and unruliness from online discourse, while critics say the moves have suppressed criticism of the government ...

China pays two million to monitor Internet

Oct 06, 2013

China is employing two million people to keep tabs on people's Internet use, according to state media, in a rare glimpse into the secret world of Beijing's vast online surveillance operation.

China's Tencent quarterly profit rises 32%

Nov 14, 2012

Chinese Internet giant Tencent on Wednesday posted a third quarter net profit increase of 32 percent, benefiting from the popularity of its instant messaging services and online games.

China extends microblog rules to south: report

Dec 22, 2011

China is extending rules requiring microblog users to register under their real names to Guangdong, state media said Thursday, after a spate of violent protests in the southern province.

China tells police to use social media

Sep 27, 2011

China has ordered police nationwide to make more use of social networking sites to ensure greater openness and "dispel misunderstandings", the state Xinhua news agency said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

1 hour ago

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Apr 24, 2014

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.

Genetic legacy of rare dwarf trees is widespread

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London have found genetic evidence that one of Britain's native tree species, the dwarf birch found in the Scottish Highlands, was once common in England.