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    China’s Internet Regulator Wants Online Fan Groups to Simmer Down

    For the next two months, children under 18 will be prohibited from engaging in “idol worship,” as well as a host of other undesirable online behaviors.

    Idol fans under 18 are facing a serious problem: They may not be able to partake in social media pushes to boost their beloved stars’ online popularity during their summer vacation.

    A new two-month campaign from the Cyberspace Administration of China will strictly monitor minors’ online activities. Called Clear & Bright, the initiative aims to prohibit children from accessing and posting violent or pornographic content, or “inappropriate cartoons” that have a bad influence on teenagers, as well as “worshipping idols without a bottom line.”

    “(We shall) strictly check and dispose of illegal accounts such as those of ‘fan circle’ professional trolls and malicious marketers, as well as deeply clean up information promoting bad values ​​such as flaunting wealth, and luxurious and hedonistic behaviors,” the country’s top internet regulator said Monday in a statement.

    By Tuesday, Chinese microblogging platform Weibo was already following the new guideline. The company said it had communicated “fan guidance management issues” with representatives of 28-year-old actor Xiao Zhan, whose fans are notorious for indulging in controversial activities online. Weibo also banned eight accounts it said had violated the rule.

    In March, droves of Xiao’s 26 million Weibo followers reported the Hugo Award-winning fan fiction site Archive of Our Own until it was blocked in the country, because their beloved male idol was depicted as a lascivious young woman by an author on the site. A month later, Xiao’s fan group came under fire after its members — including students with unstable incomes — pressured each other to mass-purchase the singer’s newly released single.

    Following Weibo’s statement Tuesday, Xiao’s representatives said they were “deeply sorry for failing to manage the fans” and “will guide them in a positive way.”

    Young people make up the majority of China’s various fandoms — over 80% of such fans are born after 1990 — and almost all of them are willing to spend lavishly on their idols. In a survey conducted by China Comment magazine, 42% of 20,000 respondents aged 12 to 18 said they had been “worshipping celebrities” since primary school, while over half said they had been die-hard fans of their idols for at least three years.

    The young idol worshippers and their sometimes-unruly behavior have been the subject of much criticism, with state media outlets repeatedly reprimanding them for their unbridled fervor.

    Celebrities themselves have also dragged many young individuals to court for spreading false and malicious information online. According to the Beijing Internet Court, over 11% of defendants involved in celebrity defamation cases last year were teenagers.

    In recent years, Chinese authorities have been trying to more tightly regulate internet use by the country’s 170 million underage netizens in a bid to prevent them from accessing anything deemed inappropriate. They’ve introduced identity verification mechanisms to monitor time spent gaming and moved to “rectify” a popular online cartoon after a netizen complained about its protagonists’ “problematic” hair colors.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Robert Daly/CAIA/People Visual)