China Goes After Online Fan Groups Amid Clampdown Ahead of Centenary

The government wants a wholesome atmosphere in the run-up to historic celebrations of the ruling party's founding, analysts say.
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China Goes After Online Fan Groups Amid Clampdown Ahead of Centenary Chinese actress Qi Wei and Korean-American pop singer Lee Seung-hyun perform at a festival in Shanghai in a Nov. 10, 2019 photo.

China's internet regulator is cracking down on verbal abuse and "rumor-mongering" among fan groups on social media, a move which commentators say will include further suppression of any speech considered politically sensitive by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but also forms part of an ongoing war on celebrity culture.

The Cyberspace Administration of China launched a two-month operation titled "Clean-up and rectification of fan group chaos," the administration said in a post on its official website.

It is targeting celebrity followers, hot topics, interactive comments, and fan communities, in a bid to eliminate "harmful information" and online abuse, it said.

Fans, many of whom are minors, are tearing into each other with verbal abuse, smear campaigns, flame wars, doxxing, and other privacy violations, as well as showing off their wealth with extravagant displays and hiring others to boost their ratings and join in online pile-ons, the administration said.

Zhejiang-based legal scholar Song Hao said the crackdown comes ahead of the CCP's centenary celebrations on July 1, and is likely to be used to clamp down on any public speech that the government doesn't like.

"We are still looking at campaign-style law enforcement, despite the fact that many of the behaviors, such as privacy violations, are covered by existing laws," Song told RFA.

"It's replacing a rule-of-law style of enforcement, and we are seeing this time and again."

A person in the Zhejiang film and television industry said the Cyberspace Administration is particularly concerned about young people.

"The central government is looking to tighten control over one industry and then another, moving towards totalitarian rule," the person, who gave only a surname Zhu, told RFA.

"It has happened in the food industry ... with the campaign against food waste ... and now the entertainment industry, where they are cracking down on high salaries," Zhu said.

'Unwanted noise'

She said the overall aim is cultivate a generation of young people who are more concerned with loving their country and the CCP than with celebrity culture.

"The fan circles are being shut down, as have all of the talent shows, which have had an impact on a lot of people's jobs," Zhu said. "Even companies that sold TV entertainment shows from foreign countries, like South Korea, have been affected."

Song said the current campaign targeting young people's online behavior comes as the party tries to purge the public realm of unwanted "noise," making way for a constant flow of pro-CCP propaganda.

"They are particularly worried about what they regard as unwanted noise that could disrupt an atmosphere of peace and happiness [they want to create] at such an important historic moment," Song said.

"This campaign against so-called chaos in fan groups isn't apolitical, but neither do [fan groups] pose a threat to the security of the regime," he said.

"The authorities are ill at ease with the entertainment, leisure, and culture [industries]," Song said. "[But at the same time], they are trying everything in their power to encourage young people to think about entertainment and money, rather than about politics and human rights."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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