China has the largest number of microbloggers in the world, it emerged on Monday, and they often shape public opinion on issues impacting people, forcing governments across the vast country to respond to complaints, a new report said.
As a result of the relentless flow of opinion on local social networking sites, the Communist Party of China (CPC)-run government has had to take notice and often respond to citizens’ views, the report compiled by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC) said.
As of June, there were 274 million microbloggers using the internet platform to express views on issues impacting them.
Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China partly to censor critical opinion and partly to protect its homegrown microblogging sites called Weibo.
The number of microbloggers increased sharply from about 63 million in 2010, said the report issued by a team of social sciences experts headed by Yin Yungong, director of the Institute of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, affiliated to the government.
"Social networks like microblogging have begun to set the agenda of public opinions and affected public emotions in some incidents, like the high-speed train crash near Wenzhou, in east China's Zhejiang Province, in July last year," the report, quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency, said.
There are 538 million internet users in China. The CPC-run authoritarian government has put in place some of the strictest internet censorship rules in place to curtail political dissent. But it takes a more lenient view on opinion critical of local issues like accidents.
For example in July, millions were allowed to criticise the municipal government after Beijing authorities were unable to cope up with the aftermath of the heaviest rainfall the burgeoning metropolis received in 60 years.
Contrarily, the government reacted swiftly earlier this year when microblogging sites began to buzz with coup rumours; people were arrested, websites were shut down, some made to apologise and thousands of entries were deleted.
Governments have realised the influence of social networks and put more effort in working with them, the report claimed.
"Research by the report's authors from July to December last year showed that the authorities responded to about 71.9 percent of issues that were widely discussed by microbloggers and 50.4% were within 24 hours," said the Xinhua report.
Instant message, the report said, was also popular with the Chinese with 415 million people using instant message applications.