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China's latest online crackdown targets mean girl online fan clubs that turn toxic
China’s fan economy is the new business model for artists and brands - and it sometimes gets ugly
China is trying to make its cyberspace a bit kinder and is targeting a phenomenon appealing largely but not solely to female teenagers known as "fan quan", or fan clubs, to do so.
The campaign known as “Clear and Bright,” initiated by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), started yesterday and will continue for the next two months.
Fan quan see a great many - sometimes millions - of a celebrity or brand’s followers congregate to form an online gang that sometimes descends into abusive language, doxxing, and other aggressive behaviors in an effort to promote their chosen celebrity over others. Beyond simply fighting for their chosen celebrity, the largely underaged members often donate money to their idol of choice.
The fervor can often be akin to that of sports fans or even political adherents, although the chosen target is typically apolitical in nature. The exception might be the case of Ivanka Trump, who in 2017 found herself a cult figure to Chinese online fan clubs. In some cases, the target has been a brand.
This fan economy in China is huge and is treated as a business model where income, popularity and relevance relies on the devotion of one’s fans- like a social media influencer meets Kickstarter campaign gone viral and well, sometimes dirty.
Some estimates say in 2020 the fan economy reached 100 billion yuan (US$31.2 billion). Another report found that 36 percent of fans are willing to spend between US$15 and US$78 each month on their idol of choice.
The CAC wants to shut down and disband some of these social media groups it has deemed a “bad influence” for cyberbullying and solicitation of money from children, plus creating environments that reward and encourage the flaunting of wealth, manipulating social media comments and use of bots to increase traffic.
When The Register ran the CAC’s announcement through an online translator, we learned it states:
This special action will address prominent issues in the online "fan circle", focusing on key links such as celebrity lists, hot topics, fan communities, and interactive comments, and comprehensively clean up the "fan circle" fans from verbal abuse, stigmatization, and instigation.
After listing some of the aforementioned bad behaviors, the CAC added:
During the period, a number of accounts and groups that have a bad influence on fundraising, rumors, and infringement of privacy will be closed and disbanded, and illegal accounts and illegal accounts such as "fan circle" professional fans, malicious marketing, and online navy will be strictly dealt with, and connivance will be dealt with severely.