Popular Microblog Websites Shut in China

Popular micro-blogging websites in China have been abruptly shut down for “maintenance” or have switched to “testing” versions.

Chinese Web users are anticipating a crackdown on privately run microblogging sites like Netease, QQ, Sina, Tencent and Chinese version of Twitter following service disruptions on several such sites over the past week.

The sites sprang up last year to fill the gap after the government blocked popular foreign-based sites including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

Netease was inaccessible Wednesday with a notice saying it was "under maintenance" and Sohu was down for three days over the weekend. Several sites show the words "beta" or "test version" on their home pages, and unnamed industry sources have been quoted saying they are facing pressure from government censors.

More and more Chinese bloggers are using the newer microblogs as their primary publishing tool, using their brief, punchy message format to chat with one another and promote their longer blog posts.

Chinese officials fear that public opinion might spiral out of control as social networking — and social unrest — boom among its 420 million Internet users.

China's attempt to control what people read and say on the Internet was highlighted by its recent dispute with Google. The American company was told its license to operate in China would not be renewed unless it stopped its practice of automatically transferring Chinese users to an uncensored website in Hong Kong.

The number of Chinese using the Internet has risen sharply to include almost a third of the population. A government-backed agency, the China Internet Network Information Center, reported Thursday that the number of Internet users has grown by 36 million since it last reported the official tally in late 2009.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters