China cracks down on online activities that lure youngsters to idolise celebrities blindly

A total of 1,028 online topics sparking arguments were eliminated from July 24 to July 31, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Cyberspace Administration of China has launched a campaign to combat online activities that lure young people to spend large amounts of money on entertainment stars, irrationally follow their idols and become involved in mudslinging with fans of rival popular performers.

Professor Wang Sixin, who specialises in Internet rules and laws at the Communication University of China, welcomed the two-month campaign launched last month, describing it as an urgent and necessary move to clean up cyberspace and help stop the youth from blindly idolising stars.

"Compared with drafting a regulation, which takes a lot of time, the crackdown is the most effective means to prevent minors who have poor critical-thinking abilities and are easily influenced from being misled or incited by harmful online information," said Prof Wang, adding that idol fans are getting younger.

A survey cited by Legal Daily last month showed that about 27 per cent of people born between 1990 and 2000 idolised stars, but the figure hit 70 per cent for those born after 2000. More than half of the idols' followers are students with no income, the survey said.

Prof Wang said being obsessed with pop stars is common in adolescence and is not a big problem.

"But using business operations to lure young people without earnings to support their idols by paying a lot for celebrity-endorsed products or attending promotional events is undesirable," Prof Wang said. "It's an improper marketing event or promotion."

Young people opening Web accounts to post untrue content about celebrities or instigate arguments between fans to attract followers should also be stopped, he said.

Soon after the campaign was launched, Sina Weibo intensified efforts to crack down on problematic marketing accounts and users who incite battles between followers of different celebrities.

A total of 1,028 online topics sparking arguments were eliminated from July 24 to July 31, with 1,086 problematic accounts and 3,524 comments involving quarrelling supporters also deleted.

Sina Weibo talked to some agencies of stars with millions of followers, such as popular singer and actor Xiao Zhan, suggesting that they work together on sensible ways for fans to support their idols and keep the peace online.

Mr Zhao Zhanling, a legal adviser with the Internet Society of China, suggested that parents and teachers increase communication with children and try to understand why they support the idols.

Some online platforms could implement technical measures to impose restrictions on minors' use of their services, he suggested.

"For example, the amount of monetary tips a minor can give to a livestreaming host in the form of gifts and how much money a child can top up his or her online account should be limited," he said.

It is also important to let a minor know that some of their behaviour online is improper and might violate laws, Mr Zhao added.

Statistics from the Beijing Internet Court back up Mr Zhao's concerns.

It found 28 per cent of 41,948 Internet-related disputes it resolved from January to November last year were related to reputation infringement, and many of the defendants were students and jobless young people who supported their own idols by insulting or defaming other celebrities.

"They use ugly words, fake claims or uncouth language to attack people in cyberspace, while some were also discovered spending lots of valuable study time and money supporting their idols, infringing on the stars' privacy or even disturbing public order," said Ms Jiang Ying, deputy president of the court.

As public figures, celebrities should accept some comments on their performances, even though some harsh words might make them unhappy, she said. "But this does not mean anyone's affection for a pop star can be above the law," Ms Jiang added.

Prof Wang said regulating juveniles' online behaviour will help prevent them from committing more serious offences.

"What we want is to see young people sensibly support their idols, using their creativity and capability of organising supportive activities to contribute something more useful to society," he said.

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