The number of people using microblog platforms like Sina Weibo fell nine percent from 2012 to 2013, due in part to the government’s sweeping crackdown on online content as well as growing competition from other popular mobile-messaging apps.
A report released by the government-run China Internet Network Information Center said that the number of microblog users in China fell from 308.6 million in 2012 to 280.8 million in 2013, according to Wall Street Journal.
The report doesn’t specify how the data about user numbers were collected or which microblogs the data references. Internet giants Sina Corp. SINA -4.75% and Tencent Holdings Ltd. 0700.HK +2.24% operate China’s two largest microblog services. Sina said in November in its most recent earnings report that daily active users grew 11.2% to 60.2 million in the third quarter from the second. Tencent didn’t release third-quarter figures for its weibo users.
The drop in users has been attributed partly to the government’s ongoing censorship campaign aimed towards platforms like Weibo, where a new policy was introduced in September 2013 to counter online “rumor mongering”. According to the policy, posting a message viewed as ‘inaccurate’ by the Chinese government that is reposted 500 times or viewed by 5000 internet users can land a person up to three years in jail.
Meanwhile, mobile-messaging apps like WeChat are becoming more and more popular in China. WeChat is now the fifth-most-used program in the world, surpassing Twitter, Skype and Instagram. Recently, it upped its functionality by allowing users to pay for cabs through apps, buy movie tickets and purchase goods online. While the app has in no way evaded China’s censors, it appears more people are turning to their mobile devices for convenient access to social media.
Beyond the declines in microblogging, the report said China’s total number of Internet users continued to grow quickly. In 2013, the country added 54 million users, for a total of 618 million users by the end of 2013 from 564 million in 2012. The report also said that 73% of Chinese Internet users were getting online through their mobile phones, with the country’s total number of mobile Internet users rising to 500 million at the end of 2013 from 420 million at the end of 2012.