Weibo shuts down celebrity ranking following criticism of fan circles

On 6 August, the Chinese social media platform Weibo pulled its list ranking popular celebrities and urged fans to support their idols rationally. An updated ranking will return to the platform. Later that day, search engine Baidu also announced that the platform would update its popular celebrity ranking.

The changes took place after Chinese state media claimed that “fan circles” (饭圈) have become unhealthy and uncontrollable. It stated that negative behaviours, such as excessive consumption, online bullying and abusive comments, have adversely affected the physical and mental health of Chinese minors. Concerns about the influence of celebrity and fan culture on young Chinese were also raised at China’s most important annual political event, the Two Sessions.

On 5 August, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection stated that it was deeply concerned about the chaos in “fan circles” and announced measures to correct online fan behaviour, including:

“removing more than 150,000 negative and harmful remarks, disabling over 4,000 illegal accounts, shutting down more than 1,300 problematic groups, and investigating certain online variety shows.”

Beijing’s response is a reaction to the recent scandals surrounding Kris Wu. The Canadian-Chinese singer was detained due to predatory behaviour and sexual assault. When the accusations were first announced, lots of fans quickly posted supportive comments and denied the claims. The event highlighted the huge influence of celebrities in China’s online culture.

In recent years, China’s “fan circles” have been expanding side-by-side with the influence of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and celebrities. Social media platforms have profited off dedicated fans who are willing to support their idols by paying money for them to rise to a higher ranking on celebrity listings. Platforms have exploited this lucrative business by encouraging fans to vote in ranking lists and setting up a variety of complex voting rules to generate a higher profit. Alongside ranking lists, fans also seek to control platforms’ comments sections and raise funds for celebrities.

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