Chinese online regulator shuts down gossip sites

BEIJING • Celebrities in China can breathe a little easier now.

On Wednesday, Chinese gossip microblogs including I Am Paparazzi and China's No. 1 Paparazzo Zhuo Wei were shut down by order of the Chinese Internet regulator, said Chinese reports.

Popular entertainment blogs hosted on websites such as Tencent, NetEase and Baidu also vanished overnight.

The clean-up began after the Cyberspace Administration of China on Wednesday ordered Sina Weibo, Youku, Tencent and other sites to better manage their user accounts and to create a healthy social environment, said reports.

The websites were also instructed to take measures to curb sensationalist coverage of celebrity scandals and lifestyles.

Later, Sina Weibo announced that it had closed 19 "vulgar" celebrity gossip microblogs, saying: "The creation and existence of vulgar celebrity content is, to a considerable degree, the result of fierce competition between different platforms."

It said the platforms had to assume the responsibility for maintaining a healthy media environment.

Before the clean-up, gossip outlets operated by individuals or teams of paparazzi were big business in China. They began as microblogs, had WeChat accounts and apps, and were valued at hundreds of millions of yuan, said reports.

According to sources, some outlets would dig for dirt about a celebrity, then make a deal with the star to kill the story.

In recent years, the gossip microblogs broke some of the biggest celebrity stories.

In 2014, Zhuo and his team were the first to report stories such as Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse getting back together with Chinese singer Faye Wong, and Chinese television star Wen Zhang having an extramarital affair with his co-star Yao Di.

In April this year, Zhuo's team alleged that Chinese actress Bai Baihe was cheating on her husband, singer Chen Yufan. But the couple announced that they had quietly divorced two years ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese online regulator shuts down gossip sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe