Chinese regulators are hitting the gas on their fan culture crackdown. On November 23, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced it will tighten oversight of how celebrity information is spread online in an effort to curb the spread of gossip and star-chasing.
The measures proposed include the establishment of a “negative list,” which would target celebrity information that promotes bad values such as traffic supremacy, “deformed aesthetics,” and wealth flaunting. Efforts to support the comeback of unethical stars or encourage fans to spend excessively on idols are also prohibited. On top of this, platforms must clearly mark celebrity endorsements and brand partnerships and keep track of celebrity accounts based on the size of their following, reporting sensitive content to local authorities.
These measures come in response to the celebrity scandals, ranging from sexual assault to tax evasion, that continue to plague China’s entertainment space. Just yesterday, Hangzhou authorities reported that it had slapped two top Chinese livestreamers, Cherie and Lin Shanshan, with a total of $14.6 million in fines for misreporting personal income as business income — similar tactics used by actresses Fan Bingbing and Zheng Shuang.
While this announcement mostly regurgitates previous statements about “bad values,” it ultimately reaffirms the government’s commitment to cleaning up its internet. More interestingly, by focusing on the spread of online information this time, the measures place more responsibility on platforms to cooperate with monitoring user behavior. Already, the China Association of Performing Arts has published a list of 88 people that are banned from livestreaming, including Guo Laoshi (who was known for her crude humor) and tainted stars Kris Wu and Zhang Zhehan. And earlier this year, Weibo took down its “star power list” after it had spawned data fans who would spend their days commenting online and sending virtual gifts to boost the ranking of their beloved stars.
For most Chinese celebrities, this move is actually good. Unless they’re among those blacklisted, which would prevent them from reentering the industry, part of the rules addresses protecting personal information, stopping the spread of slander and gossip, and curbing “chaotic” fan behavior which has occasionally embroiled stars in controversy (think Xiao Zhan’s fan war).
For brands, the question is not so much whether or not to work with KOLs as marketing in China is still heavily dependent on local influencers (Prada, for one, can thank its turnaround in China to idol Cai Xukun). Rather, they should remain careful of how they engage fans — wary of activities that could spark fan wars or frenzied buying — and frame their ambassadors in a positive light, remembering that they are largely viewed as role models in Chinese society.