January 16, 2012
Chinese Embrace Microblogging, Internet Population Exceeds 500 Million
More than a third of China´s 1.4 billion residents are now Internet friendly with nearly half of those microblogging on weibo -- China´s version of Twitter -- voicing their opinions on everything from major events to corruption and scandals.
China´s Internet population reached 513 million users in 2011, according to figures from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) released today. The agency reported that 56 million residents -- about the population of Britain -- used the Internet for the first time in 2011.
Users of weibo quadrupled in 2011, from 63 million in 2010 to more than 250 million in 2011. Weibos has become a hugely popular platform for those wanting to vent their anger and frustrations about the injustices ongoing in their country, and to also spread news of protests, which poses a significant challenge to government attempts to control information.
“Chinese authorities are more and more concerned about the Internet because it's such a decentralized medium and so difficult to control,” David Bandurski, a Hong Kong-based researcher at the China Media Project, told Marianne Barriaux of the AFP news agency. “Since 2005, the whole focus of control of information has shifted from traditional media to the Internet.”
China regularly blocks web content it deems politically sensitive and is hugely concerned about the growing power of the Internet to influence public opinion. But weibo users have been able to get around such controls by reposting information and images as fast as authorities can take them down.
Such information Chinese residents have leaked is news of a deadly high-speed train crash in July, and news of a revolt against Communist officials in the southern village of Wukan last month. The Wukan incident gained worldwide media attention and was eventually successfully quelled after authorities pledged to investigate residents´ grievances.
In a bid to exert more control over microblogs, several Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have started requiring weibo users to register their real names, making it easier for authorities to track them.
Critics said this tactic was an attempt to deter users from posting material deemed critically sensitive to the government.
The government also ordered weibo and other microblogging services to monitor content more closely and to remove any sensitive information as quickly as possible.
While Chinese residents are commanded a huge presence online, there is still a huge disparity with web usage on a wide scale in the communist country. While more than 70 percent of Beijing´s population were online in 2011, only 24.2 percent of people in Guizhou -- the country´s poorest province -- were online.
CNNIC also reported that the number of people using more traditional communication tools such as emails, forums and blogs, was falling as weibo grows in popularity. Also, the number of people surfing the web on their mobile devices reached 356 million in 2011, up by 53 million over the previous year.
Also revealing a sharp contrast in numbers, CNNIC said 30 percent of school children and students now go online, while less than 1 percent of government officials do so.
While the number of web users continued to rise in the world´s most populous country, the rate of growth was gradually slowing.
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