China's internet watchdog cracks down on obsessive fandom

June 15, 2021 2:12 pm

Citing internet feuds, waste of resources, as well as various negative impacts on the society, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's high-powered internet watchdog, is cracking down on obsessive "fan circles".

Details: According to an announcement made on June 15, CAC is launching a special campaign against obsessive "fan circles" communities, citing their engagement in activities including brewing internet feuds, spreading rumor, as well as compulsive manipulation of show business charts (by borderline illegally pooling money), and their negative impact on the society, especially on minors.

The CAC has designated 5 types of obsessive behaviors for future crackdowns, with 2 of them having significant implications on China's internet scene: 

The first (2nd on CAC's list) is the escalation of internet feuds, including calling names, spreading rumors, internet man-hunts and posting private information. The second (4th on CAC's list) is the manipulation of internet traffic and comments, such as obsessive use of bot accounts on social networks. 

Other activities banned by the CAC include pooling money from minors to help their idols hit charts, inciting fans to spend more money on their idols by showing off wealth, as well as manipulating public opinions and "hijacking orderly communications".

Concrete actions against these behaviors will include but not limit to shutting down social network accounts and online communities that are known to pool money, spread rumors, and leak private information, etc. Relevant online platforms that hosted such activities will also be subject to rectification, which often implies shutting down of services in China.

Screenshot of the CAC announcement
Screenshot of the CAC announcement

Context: What separates "fan circles" in this context from the normal fandoms is that the former are organized fan groups heavily manipulated by key individuals who have ulterior motives, such as making money or gaining their own influence within the communities to get more access to idols. These individuals would proactively incite others to participate in activities that serve their motives, . 

One specific incident involved fans purchasing large quantities of a specific brand of yoghurt because that brand sponsored a talent show of hundreds of young male idols, and each bottle contains a vote that can be pooled towards them. State media bashed the incident for waste of food in a manner that accurately resembles the capitalistic milk dumping--not a good look in China. 

Chaoyang Trap, a newsletter focusing on the culture of Chinese internet, has a good explanation of fan circles, as well as the yoghurt incident.

Interestingly, various state-affiliated apparatus used to employ fan circles in promoting nationalistic propaganda. Caixin Global reported back in 2019 that fangirls were organized to promote the positive image if "Ah Zhong gege", or "Brother China" on both Chinese and wester social networks.

Header image: CGTN