Chinese censors are picking up steam ahead of the 19th Communist Party Congress. Pic: AP.

China has 649m people online; fewer microblogging, more using chat apps

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

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

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.