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Chinese Internet Users Abandon Weibo

Data shows a decline in Weibo users, Chinese opting for WeChat, Facebook and Twitter. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images) 2014-01-19 05:36 PM EST
The latest annual report from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) shows a large decline in Weibo users in 2013. The number of online Weibo users in China dropped
by more than 27.83 million last year. Commentators analyze that the regime’s crackdown on users of this popular social media site as well as a series of content censorships has contributed to the decline.

According to data released by CNNIC on Jan. 16, instant-messaging services experienced rapid growth, increasing to 531 million users in 2013, a growth of 64.4 million from the end of 2012.
IM continues to be the most popular Internet service, enjoying more than 86 percent of web users.

Micro-blogging platforms and forums have seen a drop in users. Weibo users have dropped to 281 million, a decline of 27.83 million, or 9 percent, from 2012. 45.5 percent of China’s Internet users have a Weibo account, a 9.2 percent decrease from 2012.

Xu Lin, activist and engineer: "There’s a decline in social media users because of the constant blockade by the regime. The regime has considered social media a threat to the so-called stability. Those whose accounts have been closed open new accounts, and have been dubbed ‘the reincarnation party.’”

Activist Xu Lin says that many members of the reincarnation party have been repetitively blocked and have had multiple accounts deleted, and have even been forced to “have tea” or “check the meter” – interrogations – with the police. Therefore, many users have left Weibo and switched to WeChat, Twitter and Facebook.

Chen Yongmiao, China constitution scholar in Beijing: "I think the decline in Weibo users is related to the 'fight the Big V, campaign' – monitoring verified Weibo users with more than 500,000 followers – and the series of political consolidations. An environment for free expression has sprung up alongside the development of Weibo and the Internet."

Since February of last year, the regime has initiated heavier online censorship. More than 4,000 online bulletin boards were closed as well as more than 30,000 Weibo, WeChat and QQ accounts.
Punishment doled out to users is reportedly due to their so-called opposition remarks.

On May 2, the regime web regulator initiated the movement to clean out Big Vs. Following the announcement, numerous outspoken Weibo users were blocked including writer Murong Wuecun, China University of Political Science and Law professor He Bing, and lawyer Si Weijiang.

In mid-August, Chinese Internet regulator director Lu Wei put forth the so-called “seven bottom lines,” or a list or rules for social media users with large followings, while in a forum with more than a dozen of popular Internet celebrities.

On Aug. 20, the regime again carried out a “fight online rumors” campaign. In just a few days, over a thousand outspoken Internet users were arrested, including the Chinese Internet pushing hand Qin Huohuo, journalist Liu Hu, and the Internet anti-corruption fighter Zhou Lubao.

Charles Xue, a Big V, was detained on charges of soliciting prostitution. The regime led CCTV aired his detention at the Beijing detention center. Charles Xue is still in custody.

On Sept. 9, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Procuratorate issued the judicial interpretation for a new charge – spreading rumors with 500 followers. On Sept. 17, a 16 -year-old junior high school student with the surname Yang was arrested and detained for questioning a local murder case in his blog post.

In late November, Sina Weibo closed more than 100,000 user accounts for violations of the seven bottom lines. Many Big Vs have been arrested or blocked.

By the end of November, official regime data revealed 11,000 users had been arrested in the online censorship movement, and more than 1,200 Internet Web sites were slapped with punishments just in the second half of 2013.

Former history professor Liu Yinquan indicates that the regime has been suppressing freedom of speech to the point of aggravating public discontent.

Liu Yinquan, former history professor: "Let’s use an analogy….with a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker needs a valve to release the pressure at a certain point to prevent it from explosion. Without a valve, explosion will take place when the pressure in the cooker is too great."

Liu Yinquan points out that society operates similarly. The discontented need an outlet. At a certain point, if the discontentment has built too much, upheaval and even violent revolution will develop.

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