Kris Wu scandal: China's internet watchdog seeks to rein in unruly celebrity fan culture

Kris Wu.
PHOTO: Facebook/SMEnt.WuYiFan

China’s internet watchdog has called for further discipline of online fan clubs, urging websites and platforms to adjust their products and services to regulate fans to “star chase rationally ”.

“There needs to be a limitation of irrational star-chasing by cancelling promotions that prompt fans to buy products in support of their idols, changing the rules for competition, and managing fan groups,” it said.

The announcement by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Monday, came after the Beijing police’s detention of Chinese-Canadian pop idol Kris Wu Yifan on Saturday on suspicion of rape, which can lead to a prison sentence of between three and 10 years under China’s penal code.

Since Wu’s detention, international brands have cancelled sponsorship deals with him and five Chinese industry associations, including the film association and music association, have issued statements in response, calling for those in the entertainment sector to respect the law and pay attention to their behaviour.

Since June, the CAC’s has been aiming to put an end to the “chaos” involving online fan clubs, part of a crackdown on China’s increasingly obsessive celebrity fan culture , which involves online abuse, doxxing, excessive spending and even stalking of celebrities in extreme cases.

So far, the CAC has cleaned up more than 150,000 “harmful messages”, closed down more than 4,000 social media accounts, and 1,300 groups and removed 39 apps, it said.

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Kris Wu and nearly 1,000 supporters removed from Chinese social media
Kris Wu and nearly 1,000 supporters removed from Chinese social media

China’s celebrity culture thrived with the help of the booming internet age, in the 2010s, especially with the rise of boy band reality shows modelled after programmes from South Korea and Japan. Wu’s road to stardom coincided with this period after he made his debut in 2012 as a member of pop group EXO.

But gradually, criticism of “irrational fan behaviour” has risen. Chinese authorities, which want to channel public opinion and safeguard social stability, set up influential Chinese celebrities as role models and criticise those breaking laws for their “negative social impact”.

Authorities and state media have been increasingly critical of behaviour that encourages 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.

In May, Chinese authorities abruptly suspended the latest season of idol reality show Youth With You, after state media heavily criticised the show’s fans for the frenzied purchase of milk produced by the show’s sponsor – the cartons carried QR codes to vote for contestants. Media reported it had led to the dumping of large quantities of milk, which fans bought so they could vote for contestants but did not actually drink.

Wu’s fans were criticised in 2018 after his songs beat Ariana Grande and topped the iTunes chart, leading some to speculate about the use of bots to artificially inflate sales figures.

After Wu’s detention, Tencent and Weibo closed down social media groups where some of his fans expressed they “believe in Wu and will wait for his release”. Some extreme fans even said they’d plan a prison break to free Wu.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.