By Brenda Goh and David Stanway
SHANGHAI (Reuters) –China cracked down on what it described as a “chaotic” celebrity fan culture on Friday, barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and regulating the sale of fan merchandise after a series of scandals involving artists.
The country’s top internet watchdog said it would take action against the dissemination of “harmful information” in celebrity fan groups and close down discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals or “provoke trouble”.
Platforms will no longer be able to publish lists of popular celebrity individuals and fan groups must be regulated, the watchdog said.
The internet regulator is also barring variety shows from charging fans to vote for their favourite acts in competition programmes online and have urged against enticing netizens to buy celebrity merchandise.
Regulators across the country need to “increase their sense of responsibility, mission and urgency to maintain online political and ideological security,” the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement.
China has stringent rules on content ranging from video games to movies to music, and censors anything it believes violates core socialist values. The crackdown on celebrity fan culture also comes amid a wider regulatory campaign against the country’s Internet giants.
Online celebrity fan clubs have become a widespread phenomenon in China with the growth of the country’s entertainment industry, with actors and singers gathering fan bases with millions of supporters.
Local newspaper The Paper has projected that the country’s “idol economy” could be worth 140 billion yuan ($21.59 billion) by 2022.
But they have also been criticised for their influence over minors and for causing social disorder, as competing fan clubs have been seen trading verbal abuse at each other online or spending large amounts of money to vote for their favourite stars on idol competition programmes.
Canadian-Chinese pop star Kris Wu, who last month was detained by Beijing police on suspicion of sexual assault, saw his fan groups come to his defence on social media. Most of these fan accounts, along with Wu’s online accounts, were later shut down.
China’s Netflix equivalent, iQiyi, was also criticised earlier this year after fans of one of its talent shows were filmed wasting milk in their bid to qualify to vote. On Thursday iQiyi said it would no longer broadcast idol competition shows.
Chinese authorities have also been targeting the behaviour of domestic celebrities after a number of controversies.
In January, Chinese actress Zheng Shuang became engulfed in a surrogacy controversy and she was later probed for evading taxes. On Friday, Shanghai tax authorities said they had decided to fine her 299 million yuan for tax evasion.
Late last month, state media reported that 64 Chinese stars including some of the country’s best known names such as Zhang Yishan and Rayzha Alimjan attended a government-arranged course during which they were taught Communist Party history and about the responsibilities they held as public figures.
($1 = 6.4849 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by David Stanway, Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)