Weibo is trying to put a stop to China’s extreme celebrity fan culture

When a new album from Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu swept through the US iTunes chart back in 2018, some suspected foul play when it started topping big names like Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga.
Soon after, posts from Wu’s dedicated fan base on Weibo emerged showing step-by-step instructions on how to boost the artist’s albums on various music platforms, including Apple’s. Now Weibo wants to put an end to this kind of avid, coordinated action from fans on social media.
The microblogging site announced on Saturday that it would be targeting actions from users that include personal attacks in celebrity-related topics, manipulating Weibo rankings and malicious marketing. It also said it will better clarify its definition of “hate mongering” and include it in its community guidelines.
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Accusations that Wu manipulated his sharp rise on iTunes were never proven, but Billboard and Nielsen Music ultimately decided not to count some of those sales.
Wu is a big star back in China, where he was born and has 50 million followers on Weibo. His 288,000 followers on Twitter pales in comparison. Even though he had a song hit the top of the iTunes chart in the US in 2017 by teaming up with American rapper Travis Scott, Wu is far from a household name in the country.
Chinese celebrity stans have earned a reputation for their zealousness. Some have been known to employ bots to boost the ranking of their favourite stars on Weibo. More insidiously, they’ve also been known to review-bomb, dox and report posts from opposing fans.
“Every hot search item (on Weibo) has curses and abuse against unrelated artists,” said one of the most upvoted comments under Weibo’s announcement. “It’s hard to look at it without getting annoyed. Basically, you cannot surf the internet carefree.”
The new initiative, however, isn’t coming from Weibo alone. Last week, China’s internet watchdog and one of the agencies in charge of censoring content, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), launched a two-month campaign to create a “healthier” digital environment for teenagers.
As a part of a larger drive against content deemed vulgar and harmful to minors, the office has pledged to “severely crack down on” acts of extreme fandom like manipulating rankings. It has also promised to clean up information supposedly propagating unhealthy values like showing off wealth and extravagance.
Local authorities previously sought to regulate celebrity culture in the country in 2016. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), which was later replaced by a different agency, issued new guidelines for social and entertainment news that year. The guidelines require news to avoid “Western lifestyles” or putting stars, billionaires or internet celebrities on pedestals. Instead, it should promote mainstream ideologies and “positive energy”.
One local celebrity already paid a price after the actions of his avid fans resulted in a popular fan fiction website getting blocked in China.
After a piece of fan fiction depicting Chinese star Xiao Zhan was published on one of the world’s biggest fan fiction sites, Archive of Our Own or AO3, local authorities abruptly blocked access to the website in February.
The story depicted Xiao, known for his role in period drama series The Untamed, as a sex worker falling in love with another famous male idol, Wang Yibo. Xiao’s fans were apparently so annoyed with the homoerotic depiction that they reported the site to the Chinese authorities for containing “prostitution and pornographic content”.
But AO3 had a large Chinese readership, many of whom became angry at Xiao stans and accused them of being complicit in China’s censorship machine. They also called for a boycott of the star and the brands associated with him, including Estee Lauder, Piaget and Cartier. Numerous brands dropped Xiao as their spokesperson as a result. Xiao’s management team issued an official apology for his fans’ behaviour at the b…
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