China’s internet watchdog is a panel set up by the country’s government to monitor and survey everyone on the internet within the country and one of the panel’s deliverables is how many accounts it can crackdown.
This year alone, over 20,000 social media influencers’ accounts were either suspended or completely shut down – some with tens of millions of followers that they amassed over the period of years.
The reasons for their account/business termination? Their failure to promote “core socialist” values.
China is the only country in the world – aside from the rogue North Korean, that can scrub your entire internet history and personality off the media overnight.
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We’ve seen similar situations with movie stars like Zhao Wei and we’ll continue to see it over time.
The crackdown is Beijing’s effort to achieve its absolute control and dominance of all internet content and narratives amid ongoing tensions with the West.
Some top influencers that fell victim to their own country’s politics include the likes of Luo Changping who is a former investigative journalist.
Luo used the popular microblogging platform Weibo to uncover a corrupt senior economic planner back in the year 2012 but got arrested for posting “insulting comments” about Chinese soldiers portrayed in a recent blockbuster movie about the Korean war.
In fact, his Weibo account with more than 2 million followers got scrubbed back in October – something very popular in China.
Other cases include popular live streamers Zhu Chenhui AKA Xueli Cherie, and Lin Shanshan – both of whom were called out by an internet watchdog called Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for alleged tax evasion.
Although their online activity only involved selling clothes and cosmetics to fans, the regulator said they had to be removed from China’s internet.
CAC then issued a statement that it ordered internet platforms to scrub those who “misused their online influence and circulate misleading content”.
“Top accounts are not only a personal social tool, but also carry the nature of media and the function of mobilizing the society,” CAC said in the statement.
Top influencers, even if they are individuals or private firms, must bear the responsibility to abide by the law and “vigorously promote core socialist values,” it said.
In fact, the watchdog which I’d rather call Lapdog of the communist government vowed to further tighten its grip on top influencers while giving guidance to internet platforms in their handling of “problematic” accounts.
Social media accounts on Weibo, Tencent’s super-app WeChat, and ByteDance’s short video platform Douyin that are deemed to be propagating “soft porn” or engaged in “vulgar” marketing were also targeted, along with those “spreading rumors”.
And by rumor in China’s term, this refers to information without a basis in fact and those can in fact be information that doesn’t sit well with the government. Anything can literally be deemed as a rumor in China.
Apart from the tightened censorship, internet users in the country are only limited to what they service within the great wall.
Services from western tech companies like Meta, Google, and Twitter are all forbidden especially if they don’t lick the foot of the government.
One of the main reasons for the restriction is because the Chinese government is trying to save its face and project a positive image of itself on the global scale – especially the February’s Beijing Winter Olympics is coming soon.
The government is also trying to maintain social and economic stability ahead of a key political gala, the 20th National Party Congress, in the second half of next year.
In September, Weibo banned at least 52 influential user accounts, some with millions of followers, such as Stock Community and Michael Chen, in response to Beijing’s latest campaign to clean up “misinterpretation” of financial and economic policies on social media.
The CAC further removed some 150,000 examples of “harmful” content published on the internet while also punishing over 4,000 accounts related to fan clubs according to a Xinhua report in August.
The same month, China’s Ministry of Commerce released draft regulations for the live-streaming industry, which spelt out items that can no longer be sold in live streams, including sex toys, spy devices, foreign newspapers, and medicine.