Even though it’s far too premature to declare the demise of microblogging in China, a growing body of evidence suggests the country’s overhyped weibo platforms are faring poorly in the midst of stepped up censorship and mounting competition from mobile messaging apps.
New-fangled data from the government-affiliated China Internet Network Information Center buttresses that picture, presenting a 9% drop in the total number of microblog users in 2013 to 280.8 million from 308.6 million in 2012.
“The government has reintroduced a campaign to crack down on microblogs, which act like a cybernetic town square for many in China to voice their opinions about a range of issues from official corruption and environmental degradation to sports and pop stars. Beijing has long sought greater control over information distributed by microblogs, known as weibo in Chinese, and mandates that companies operating the sites closely monitor and censor content. Though the report at hand doesn’t bring up the campaign—which has led to the warning and arrest of high-profile commentators and the expansion of criminal laws that make it easier to prosecute people for their online activity—many analysts have warned about the fact that the crackdown would dampen down the use of microblogs.”
The report doesn’t insist- how the data about user numbers were collected or for that matter which microblogs the data references. Internet colossuses as Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. operate China’s two major microblog services. Sina alleged 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 issue third-quarter figures for its weibo users.
The numbers fortify perceptions which drives home the fact that – censorship is helping initiate China’s Internet users to other platforms, comprising Tencent’s WeChat mobile messaging app, which claimed 272 million active users in September alone (more than double the number of users it had the same time, a year earlier). WeChat has proven attractive among the politically inclined as its semi-private conversations are perceived as less likely to invite government intrusion.