China Shutters Dozens of Entertainment News Accounts in Social Media Crackdown

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cyber-meeting-06082017.jpg Website operators meet in Beijing as the industry grapples with China's strict new cyber-security regulations, June 7, 2017.
Courtesy of a participant.

China's powerful Cyberspace Agency has shuttered around 60 social media accounts on major platforms amid a crackdown on celebrity news and gossip.

The agency said the move came amid a crackdown on independent media accounts purveying celebrity photos and gossip sparked by the new cybersecurity law, which came into effect on June 1, and contains a clause stipulating that online content mustn't breach privacy.

Internet platforms Weibo, Tencent, NetEase and Baidu were warned that they must step up censorship of user accounts offering celebrity gossip, the Beijing office of the Cyberspace Administration of China said via its social media account.

"Websites must ... adopt effective measures to keep in check the problems of the embellishment of private sex scandals of celebrities, the hyping of ostentatious celebrity spending and entertainment, and catering to the poor taste of the public," the agency said.

They must also "actively propagate core socialist values, and continue to create a more healthy environment for mainstream public opinion", it said.

Companies have been told to collect and record data on any site or account that breaks the cyber security laws and report it to authorities.

A former manager in a social media company who asked to remain anonymous said the ruling Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping is tightening control over what is said online, in the name of strengthening public morality.

"This is just one of a slew of measures aimed at controlling online public opinion," the source said. "The party often wages campaigns against this or that, with the aim of bringing everything in line with the point of view of the government."

"But it's only this recent administration that has really gotten to grips with enforcing it. They want to unify everyone's thinking; that's the basis of this," he said, adding that such campaigns are always orchestrated from "higher up" in government, not initiated by Chinese internet service providers.

He drew a parallel with the political and moral denunciations of the Mao-era Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

"I'm not sure the Cultural Revolution was ever really over," he said.

U.S.-based author Luo Siling agreed, saying the campaigns put her in mind of the same period in China's history.

"I think Xi Jinping is taking Mao Zedong as a role model, because he also has a habit of attacking the cultural and artistic community, perhaps because he things that such things aren't serious subjects," Luo said.

"I think the aim is to establish a sort of unified taste for the entire population, so that all that will be available will be a limited selection of new Revolutionary Model Operas," she said.

She said she didn't believe the government would succeed, however.

"I don't think you can control that kind of thing, because people in the world of entertainment don't care about politics," she said. "If they won't even allow entertainment, then what are people supposed to do with themselves?"

"It's pretty terrifying to imagine a country with no entertainment whatsoever."

Calls to the Cyberspace Administration rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday, while an official at the Beijing branch of the agency declined to comment.

China's draconian new cybersecurity law, which came into effect last Thursday, aims to "monitor, defend and handle cybersecurity risks and threats originating from within the country or overseas sources."

But while the official media have focused on its provisions for cyberattacks and leaking of personal data, associated regulations also aim to end the role played by social media in keeping people informed about events in their own country.

Under the new law, websites, forums, blogs and social media platforms including messaging apps are required to apply for an internet news providers' license before they are allowed to transmit or post any news not already produced by tightly controlled state media.

Tweets about breaking news from the scene of an event would fall into that category, so service providers would be obliged to delete them regardless of their content under the new blanket ban.

Only state-owned enterprises are now allowed to run online news and editorial services, under related regulations.

The new rules apply to "news reports about public affairs such as politics, economy, military and diplomacy, as well as comments and reports on emergencies, and news services include publishing, forwarding and broadcasting news."

Reported by Wong Siu-san for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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