CHINA - A series of arrests of high-profile micro-bloggers has sounded warning bells for China's Internet commentators.
The arrest of Xue Manzi, a 60-year-old "celebrity" with more than 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, on charges of soliciting a prostitute has triggered a heated online discussion throughout the country.
The widespread attention has tarnished the positive image Xue has been building for several years.
The United States' national is an angel investor who provides financial backing for small startups and entrepreneurs. He is also an online opinion leader who has used his micro-blog to advocate a crackdown on child trafficking and promote free lunch projects for children in poor areas. Xue has also requested financial help to provide treatment for teenagers with leukaemia.
However, further investigations by the police suggest there is a darker side to Xue's character. In addition to soliciting prostitutes, he has also been accused of "group licentiousness" and is alleged to have frequently organised group sex parties. He told the police that he was addicted to group sex long before he arrived in China, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Ge Zhongming, a professor at the School of Philosophy and Social Development at Shandong University, said when micro-blog celebrities such as Xue fall, great damage is done to "society's systemic trust", as opposed to the interpersonal trust with which we are all familiar, and this can affect social psychology en masse.
"From a sociological perspective, these V celebrities (verified account users, obliged to submit personal information to the company that operates the micro-blog and whose avatars are accompanied by a V-shaped badge) are an access point to society. If they lose the trust of the public, whether by disseminating rumours or through a promiscuous personal life, social credibility as a whole will suffer from the collateral damage brought about by their tarnished images," said Ge.
Three days before his arrest, Xue posted the following on his micro-blog: "While the Shanghai judges are striving to lose the label of 'whoremasters', Li Shuangjiang (a famous singer in China and dean of the Music Department of the People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts) is doing his best to earn his son the same label."