China is still the country with the world’s largest number of Internet users—by a long shot, too—but the days of super-charged online growth look to be over. The total number of Internet users grew to 632 million over the last six months, through the end of June. That 2.3 percent gain marks the slowest pace in eight years, according to the latest survey by the state-backed China Internet Network Information Center.
Particularly striking was the drop-off in social media users. As Chinese authorities stage a crackdown on “rumor mongering”—seen in many cases as a thinly veiled effort to squelch political and other kinds of verboten speech—the number of people visiting social websites dropped by 20.4 million, or 7.4 percent, to 257 million.
A judicial interpretation issued in September 2013 made the online transmission of rumors that are false or defamatory punishable by up to three years in prison and the loss of political rights. Chinese authorities have accordingly jailed a number of people and have shuttered user accounts alleged to have shared sensitive information on Weibo, a Twitter-like service, as well as on instant-messaging service Wechat.
Still, the number of people in China using mobile devices to access the Internet saw fast growth, up 5.4 percent to 527 million. Also notable: For the first time, more people logged on through mobile means—83.4 percent of total users—than the 81 percent who did so via the traditional methods of laptop or personal computer. “In other words, the mobile phone can be regarded as the key terminal device for Chinese to get online,” Liu Bing, deputy director at CINIC, told the China Daily.
Mobile e-commerce also became ever more popular. The number of users who made payments via mobile phones grew 63.4 percent in the last six months. “The mobile payment is becoming much closer with consumers, and it has been making greater contributions to e-commerce development,” Liu said.