Total users of China’s Weibo, the Twitter-like platform that is the most popular microblogging social network in the country, fell for the first time last year, reports the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC).
Weibo lost 9 percent of users, totalling more than 27.8 million, and now has an audience of 281 million.
This was the first decline in Weibo users since 2010.
Twitter and Facebook are both blocked in China, but this hasn’t stopped authorities from launching similar services to a social media-hungry nation, albeit with government approval. Indeed, it’s an increase in these controls that is being seen as largely to blame for the drop in Weibo users, alongside a growth in instant-messaging services, such as WeChat, that are demanding user attention, much like how WhatsApp and Snapchat have taken share in the West.
However, a new legal measure that allows Chinese authorities to jail microbloggers who post false information that is then heavily shared, particularly if it is critical of the government, is likely to be the real cause.
“It has squeezed off some bubbles, and people have become more cautious in forwarding messages,” said Shen Yang, a professor of information management at Wuhan University in central China.
“At its heyday, the viewpoint was that Weibo could change everything, but it overlooked the transformation China could have on it.”
Dozens of Chinese social media users have already been arrested in the wake of the new measure.
“If we should describe the online environment in the past as good mingling with the bad, the sky of the cyberspace has cleared up now because we have cracked down on online rumours,” said Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the State Internet Information Office.