Rise in Chinese microbloggers to 274m
CHINA HAS the world’s largest number of microbloggers, with 274 million people owning accounts, government data has shown.
Online commentators have embraced the platform for everything from idle gossip to tough political comment.
The country is the world’s top microblogging nation, even though Twitter, the most popular platform, is banned in China. Facebook, YouTube and other social networks are also forbidden.
There has been a sharp increase from 2010, when there were 63 million microbloggers, according to the report, which was compiled by a team of experts at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“Social networks have begun to set the agenda of public opinion and affected public emotions in some incidents, such as the high-speed train crash near Wenzhou, in east China’s Zhejiang province, in July last year,” the report said.
“Governments have realised the influence of social networks and put more effort into working with them,” it continued, adding that there was a need for a national strategy to develop and manage new media.
The most popular microblog site in China is Sina Weibo, which has more than 300 million members and accounts for more than half of all microblog users. A message on Sina Weibo is made up of 140 characters or fewer. In Chinese, a character is a word or at least half a word, so this can represent quite a long message.
Sina Weibo has been under pressure this year to stop providing a platform for comment on the case of purged former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai. He is expected to go to trial soon ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, while his wife, Gu Kailai, has been given a suspended death sentence for her part in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Sina Weibo has become a platform that allows Chinese citizens to monitor and criticise the government in ways that would not have seemed possible before, and about 100 million messages are posted on Sina Weibo every day.
While Beijing is more than happy to enjoy the educational and business benefits of the internet, it fears its potential to spread criticism of communist rule. It is fighting a tough battle, however.
Besides microblogging, instant messaging is also popular with Chinese people and has overtaken the use of search engines, music and news as the most popular online application, the report said. It added that about 415 million Chinese use instant message applications.
The government previously introduced rules to keep tabs on Sina Weibo, such as forcing users to use their own names rather than nicknames or avatars. In May it added a penalty points system of blocks to the internet control system, famously referred to as the Great Firewall of China, to prevent the use of Sina Weibo for controversial posts.
Data in July showed China’s internet population continues to rise, despite blocks on traffic, with an increase of 11 per cent from last year to 538 million. This means four out of 10 Chinese can access the internet. It is estimated that by 2015 China will have more than 800 million internet users.