Beijing’s campaign to ‘discipline’ celebrities expands to what they can do on social media

Coco Feng, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 24 2021 12:42 PM | Updated as of Nov 24 2021 12:45 PM

China’s top internet watchdog has introduced regulations that strictly limit what celebrities, their agents and even fans can do on social media, as Beijing continues its campaign to discipline pop culture and fan clubs.

The new measures include a limit on the number of accounts they can have, a ban on showing off a luxury lifestyle, and restricting posts that show their work and activities, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The CAC notice, dated October 26 but released publicly on Tuesday, was designed to “further strengthen the work related to online information regulation of entertainment stars”. It also bans paparazzi that expose the private life, home address or schedules of stars.

“Some online publicity about celebrities is undisciplined. Gossip and private information have occupied the front page and trending topics of some websites, taking up a lot of public resources”, the CAC said.

The watchdog said information about stars shall “adhere to the correct direction of public opinion and value orientation, and promote core socialist values”.

Under the new rules, online platforms, especially social media and other information aggregators, will be required to monitor celebrity accounts and report any inappropriate activity to the authorities.

CAC also stipulated that each star agency should only have one account on each social media platform, and that fan club accounts need to be authorised by the agency.

The notice also banned the act of “whitewashing” a celebrity if he or she has violated the law or engaged in what is deemed as unethical behaviour. Several famous Chinese stars have recently disappeared from public view in the wake of scandals, including Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu who was detained in August on suspicion of rape, and pianist Li Yundi who was arrested last month for allegedly patronising a prostitute.

“Illegal or unethical” people are not allowed to return to the industry, the notice said. On Tuesday morning, news of the ban was the ninth-highest trending topic on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, with nearly 65 million views.

In a separate move on Tuesday, the government-backed China Association of Performing Arts published a blacklist of 88 people, mostly online influencers, who are prohibited from hosting live-streamed sessions.

They include Kris Wu, actor Zhang Zhehan who visited Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine, a political flashpoint between Tokyo and its Asian neighbours, and actress Zheng Shuang, who was mired in surrogacy and tax evasion scandals earlier this year.

Under the new CAC rules, celebrities will also be restricted from over exposure when it comes to their everyday work and life. Hyping up their performances in drama and music, as well as any charitable work, will be restricted. Information about such activities must be done “naturally”, without any hype, the CAC said.

Starting in June, Beijing turned its attention to online fan circles, or fan quan, which are informal virtual communities centred around an idol. These circles usually induce minors to contribute money to the idols, and also engage in doxxing and trolling of rival groups.

More than 20,000 “illegal” accounts have been removed and over 400,000 “harmful” posts were removed, CAC deputy head Sheng Ronghua said last week.

The new notice also explicitly banned trolling, as well as irrational buying or fundraising among fans for stars.