To say that the actions of the Chinese government over the last week have shaken the celebrity world to its core would be an understatement.

The Cyberspace Administration of China has ordered a crackdown on “unhealthy online fandom culture” to reduce idol worshipping among underage fans. Netizens have dramatically compared it to the Cultural Revolution (a time where arts and culture were restricted to only propaganda).

150,000 pieces of “harmful online content” have been removed and over 4,000 fan club accounts punished in the last few weeks

What had started over the last month with a string of celebrities getting wiped off the face of the Chinese internet for “bad behaviour” (a movement which continues) has morphed into the announcement of “10 measures” to clean up the “chaos of celebrity fan clubs”. You can see the list on the right.

Why now?

The phenomenon of of mostly underage girls willing to do just about anything for their idols (singers and actors alike) is not new. It dates back to the 1960s. It is, however, relatively recent in mainland China.
 
The recent crack down is the result of two seperate chains of events: celebrity and survival show scandals.
 
Cases involving fans blindly supporting scandal-hit celebrities have increased concern over toxic fan culture. Their ability to mobilize (both offline and online) alarms the party as they see it as a signal that the young are willing to challenge authority for their idols.
 
There is no better example than the recent case of Kris Wu who has been accused of sexual assault and rape and then fiercily defended by young female fans who went so far as openly discussing a “prison break”.

A major turning point for Beijing’s tough stance on fan circles was the aftermath of a marketing campaign by platform IQIYI in May with its very popular “Youth With You 3” variety show.

Not only was the show plagued by viscious fan wars with minors hurling abuse online and doxing but, a scandalous video circulated online where people were seen dumping a large amount of milk into sewers. IQIYI had partnered with a milk brand to include voting codes in their product… which led to the expected purchase in bulk just for the codes by fans.

All online ranking lists of celebrities will be removed and only authorized fan groups will be allowed in a bid to crack down on the unhealthy fan club culture in the country. This will see a ban on all forms of promotional events that use a competitive scheme among the celebrities or fans like survival shows. IQIYI already announced they were shutting down all of their survival shows.

The regulator is also stopping activities that encourage fans to flaunt their wealth, manipulate social media comments, make up topics online to hijack public opinion and use bots to increase traffic data related to their idols.

How will this impact SNH48?

The answer is… more questions.

The Cyperspace Administration only has authority over what happens online. SNH48 isn’t a platform (more on that later) and can’t be classified as a “variety show” even though it has online broadcasts. From that point of view, the rules would not apply.

The truth, however, is that STAR48 does own a platform: Pocket48. Already, several sections showing rankings of members have been removed from that APP and we can expect further changes ahead.

The group also has a large number of fan groups, fan clubs, support associations (formal and informal) all operating online but without direct supervision. Those have already started to vanish as STAR48 now will have to “approve” fan clubs and keep them in line. The danger here is that only the members who are the more popular (read: generate the most money) will get that.

We also have to consider the impact of these rules on the two major events: the General Elections and the Best50 Request Time. Both of these are entirely based on the concept of ranking. Would SNH48 still be able to proceed if they simply do not post the numbers online? Is selling physical EP which contains a voting ticket considered “pay to vote”? Will fan clubs no longer be able to make bulk purchases of products for voting? Will going back to voting on songs only at the B50 instead of the idols be enough? Or is this all irrelevant because STAR48 isn’t a platform and not big enough to bother the regulator?

We simply do not know.

What we DO know is that SNH48 Group has grown dependent on the revenues of those two events (generating millions of yuan). Any change made to the structure of those could have dire repercusions… or none at all.

It all depends on how far reaching these policies end up being.

Celebrity Rankings Ban

All celebrity rankings (idols, singers, actors, groups) are now banned. This includes all direct or indirect forms of ranking. Only music, film and television… can be ranked, but participating artists names cannot be listed.

Updated Ranking Systems

Platforms need to update the algorithms they use to rank search results so that fan engagement (likes and comments) no longer have as much weight. It is not allowed to use celebrity appeal to lure fans to view certain results or products in searches.

Accountability for Agencies

Talent agencies are now responsible to create appropriate rules for their artists regulating their behaviour online. Agencies also have to take accountability for the fan clubs of their artists. Accounts of agencies will be banned if their fans engage in fan wars.

Fan Clubs Registration

All fan club accounts will now have to be officially registered through managing agency of the celebrity they wish to support. Only authorized clubs that accept daily supervision will be allowed and no unauthorized individual or organization may take part.

Fan Wars Ban

Platforms will be accountable to manage fan circle activities on their sites. This means promptly banning any account that engages in verbal conflict, fan wars, rumour spreading or any other harmful activity. Platforms or websites that fail to do so will face severe penalties.

Illegal Fan Activities Ban

All communities or fan groups discussing fundraising, celebrity support tactics/techniques (including how to control reviews), gossip, scandals, and more are effectively banned.

Overconsumption Controls

Platforms must develop new rules to manage artists and related products. It is forbidden to rank the number or total of purchases or use other means (benefits, PKs…) to push fans to buy more.

Variety Shows Voting

“Pay to vote” systems are forbidden for platforms variety shows (e.g. survival shows). It is also strictly prohibited to push fans to buy products or memberships in order to secure votes.

Limit Participation of Minors

Measures are to be taken to prohibit minors from participating in the giving of gifts and participating in other purchasing for the purpose of cheering a celebrity. Agencies are to restrict the ability of minors to vote on rankings, participate in fan clubs, or take part in online events.

Regulate Fundraising

Platforms are to promptly find and remove accounts participating in illegal fundraising activites. Platforms or websites who fail do manage their members properly or to discourage minors from participating in fundraising will be penalized. Overseas websites that provide voting/ranking, and fundraising assistance will also be investigated.

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