September 30th, 2011
05:28 AM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – A senior government official says China’s total number of Internet users is now more than 500 million people, state media reported.
That’s more than 60% higher than the entire population of the U.S., where much of the Internet infrastructure was first developed and home to the giants of the industry such as Google, Facebook and Youtube – sites whose services are largely blocked in the world’s largest Internet market.
Wang Chen, chief of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), said in his keynote speech at the UK-China Internet Roundtable that the world’s most populous nation now has nearly 40% of its 1.3 billion population online. SCIO is a ministry-level government agency which oversees media and Internet issues in China.
Wang highlighted six areas where the Internet poses challenges for China, including developing its own innovation and safeguarding intellectual properties, but also talked about the challenges social networks hold for China, where Internet companies face strict censorship requirements.
“In the world, more and more people share information via social networks. This has both brought conveniences to people and posed new challenges for social management. The violent crimes that occurred in some parts of the world this year have stimulated people to consider how to prevent the abuse of social networks.”
Use of social media during the UK riots in August led to some discussion of banning use of sites like Twitter and Facebook during the riots, although some have argued there is little evidence that links “flash mob violence” in the UK and the U.S. to social websites.
“At present, China boasts of over 300 million microbloggers,” Wang said.
“All stakeholders should consciously safeguard the solemnity of laws and the norms of social morality. They should refrain from jeopardizing national interests, public interests and the legitimate rights and interests of other citizens,” Wang said. “We must coordinate the safe flow and the free flow of Internet information.”
The conflict between “safe flow and the free flow” of information led search giant Google to pull its search engine operations from China, refusing to follow government requirements on censoring searches after a hacking attack that the company alleged came from China.
Other companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, are blocked in China. China’s huge Internet population has given rise to local giants such as microblogging site Sina Weibo. In recent weeks, there have been rumblings that Sina will strengthen its filtering of discussions on the popular microblogging site.
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