China has 649 million people online, but less of them are microblogging after speech crackdown

Markets Associated Press

China has 649 million people online, but they are drifting away from microblogging sites after a government crackdown on free speech.

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China's online population was already the world's largest. Of those counted in the government-backed China Internet Network Information Center's annual report released Tuesday, 557 million were using mobile devices.

The number of microblog users dropped in 2014 by 32 million to 249 million, a decline that shows the sites failed to recover from the 2013 crackdown that chilled discussion on China's Twitter-like sites. Meanwhile, newer products — especially the instant messaging service WeChat — are rapidly gaining popularity.

The report also says the number of users of mobile instant message services grew 17.8 percent to 508 million.