Explanation: What is the reasoning behind China’s crackdown on “toxic” fandom culture and how are people reacting? – JP

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Chinese cyberspace authorities have ordered a crackdown on the country’s fandom culture, hoping to curb what they have called “the cult of toxic idols” in the wake of several high-profile celebrity scandals.

Zealous support from young fans amid allegations of tax evasion and celebrity sexual assault raised government concerns over the idol frenzy.

But what is a fandom? Is it really that bad? What exactly does the repression consist of? Here’s what you need to know.

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What is a fandom?

A fandom is a very organized group of fans, who are willing to devote their time and money to increase the popularity of their idol.

Within fandoms, administrators organize fan groups on different media platforms, such as Tencent and Weibo. These managers assign different tasks to fans every day to increase the odds or exposure of the celebrity. Tasks can include sharing, likes, and comments on social media posts.

The most dedicated fans will sometimes even spam social media, spread fake news to deflect public opinion, and use bots to increase traffic data related to their idols.

Some Kris Wu fans remain loyal even though he was arrested on rape allegations. Photo: Getty Images

In 2018, Chinese-Canadian Kris Wu Yifan, former member of the hugely popular Chinese-Korean boy band EXO, defeated American pop star Ariana Grande to climb to the top of the American iTunes charts with her album “Antares”. This sparked speculation that her fans had used bots to manipulate the Chinese star’s streaming data and sales figures, who is not as well known in the West.

American media Variety reported at the time that Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, wrote in a now deleted Instagram post about a conversation he had with Wu: “It was explained to [him] and I said last night that because its release was chosen in China for its anniversary, its fans went to get the music as they could and it was in the United States [iTunes] … They were real people from the United States and the international community and not robots as many have said.

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How big are the Chinese fandoms?

According to a report published by iResearch Consulting Group in 2020, China’s fan economy-related market value was estimated to be over 4 trillion yuan ($ 619.2 billion) in 2019, and is expected to exceed 6 trillion yuan in 2023.

On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the most shared post of all time is a birthday post from September 21, 2014, by Karry Wang Jun-kai, member of the Chinese mega boy band TFBoys. The post was shared 42,776,438 times, holding the Guinness world record of “most of the reposts of an article on Weibo”.

Why do the authorities impose a crackdown?

In June, the Chinese Cyberspace Administration released a declaration on its official website, stating that fans had fought and spread rumors about other idols online, which “disrupted the pure and healthy online ecosystem.”

He went on to explain that the phenomenon of fan culture had “damaged the mental and physical health of young people”.

Several brands have ended their collaborations with Kris Wu after beauty influencer Du Meizhu accused him of alleged sexual assault on underage girls. Photo: Weibo / Dou Meizhu

In late August, Chinese authorities ordered a tougher crackdown on Kris Wu’s detention this month for alleged rape. Wu fans were seen gathering at the police station where the star was being held, as they sang in support of the singer. The actions have been heavily criticized online, with netizens accusing fans of being shamefully devoted to the accused singer.

Tencent and Weibo have shut down social media groups where some of its fans have expressed that they “believe in Wu and will await his release.” Some extreme fans even said they would plan a prison break to free Wu.

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What has happened since the start of the repression?

Since its initial statement in June, China’s Cyberspace Administration has deleted more than 150,000 “harmful messages”, closed more than 4,000 social media accounts and taken at least 39 mobile apps offline.

To further eliminate what it saw as a “toxic fan culture,” the Office of the Central Commission for Cyberspace Affairs announced a 10-point regulation at the end of last month.

Under the new regulations, all celebrity ranking lists will be removed. Ratings of music, movies and other celebrity works can be kept as long as they do not directly name the stars.

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Celebrity agencies will also face more stringent regulations when it comes to posting content, promoting business, and managing celebrity fans. Agencies have been ordered to take a larger role in monitoring fan groups to deal with accounts that trigger fights between fans with differing opinions.

Adolescents are prohibited from joining fan clubs. They are also prohibited from voting for idols online and spending money on idol promotional activities, including purchasing products for which an idol is the spokesperson. Authorities said the move was aimed at preventing fan culture from disrupting their studies and daily lives.

As the government continued to clean up the entertainment industry, one of China’s biggest movie stars, Zhao Wei, was removed from the internet in late August as descriptions of his involvement were removed from all television series, online films, videos and promotional material.

Zhao Wei (center) is famous for his role in the Chinese TV series “My Fair Princess”. Photo: Handout

How has the Chinese media industry reacted?

On August 6, Weibo announced the deletion of its Star Power ranking list – one of the most popular virtual battlegrounds where Chinese fans donate money and time to show their love and support for idols.

The company said the list had been removed “to ensure the orderly development of the community and to ensure that fans were rational in their support.”

Likewise, Douyin, TikTok’s sister app in China, and Kuaishou, a short video-sharing app backed by Tencent, have removed celebrity ratings from their platforms.

Gong Yu, CEO of iQiyi, announced at the end of August that the streaming giant would cancel its idol show. Photo: Handout

In late August, Gong Yu, founder and CEO of streaming giant iQiyi, told a symposium that iQiyi had canceled its talent show and online voting features for the next few years.

“iQiyi (…) always insists on drawing a clear line against unhealthy trends in the industry,” Gong said, adding that the company does not support paying stars unreasonably large amounts or allowing them to ‘avoid tax.


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