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Why Weibo and Chinese Celebrities Are Put into the Naughty Corner by China’s Cyberspace Administration

Weibo and online celebrities are punished by Internet regulators for spreading ‘vulgar content’, but netizens bear the brunt.

Manya Koetse

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Image by Sohu.com

China’s central Internet regulator has summoned Sina Weibo to keep its information flows under control, punishing the platform by closing down its hot search lists and trending topic lists for the time to come. Sina Weibo has reacted with self-criticism and has exposed Chinese celebrities allegedly buying their way to the top.

There is an empty space on the right sidebar of the Sina Weibo platform this week. Where users of China’s biggest microblogging website usually see a ‘top trending’ list of the most popular topics or the most searched hashtags on the right sidebar, they now see an advertisement with nothing below it.

The change is the result of the reprimands Sina Weibo received this week from the Cyberspace Administration, China’s central Internet regulator, over the company’s “failure to censor illegal information posted by its users” and spreading of “vulgar content,” according to state media outlet Xinhua News.

 
Weibo Gets Punished
 

As punishment for Weibo’s ‘incapability’ to keep its information flows under control, the Cyberspace Administration issued a weeklong ban on the site’s “most searched hashtags” and “hottest topics” lists, until Saturday, February 3.

Another penalty was also announced: Sina Weibo’s hot lists cannot contain dozens of names and topics specified on an issued list for a period of at least three months.

On January 28, Weibo’s Administrator (@微博管理员) announced the recent measures and published a list of celebrity names that can no longer hit the ‘most popular’ charts on Weibo for the time to come.

One of the reasons mentioned for the ban is that these celebrities would allegedly buy their way to the top trending lists on Weibo. Weibo’s Administrator writes:

As the largest social media platform in China, we know that Weibo should have higher standards and greater responsibility. Based on our deep understanding for the notification of the concerning departments, we will carry out a thorough self-examination and self-correction, and will strictly carry out reforming measures to ensure we meet the goal. We will increase the cooperation with the formal media, and upgrade the Quality of Service of our content. With more technology and manpower, we will improve our management of illegal and harmful information, and maintain the order within the online informaton and preserve a good [online] environment.

In August 2016, Chinese authorities already announced that they would strictly guard against hyping private affairs and family conflicts of internet celebrities and the rich and famous. The announcement followed after the divorce of Chinese actor Wang Baoqian became one of the most discussed topics of all time on Weibo and Wechat.

 
Battling Flawed Algorithms?
 

On January 28, Weibo’s Administrator issued another statement that said that Weibo’s hot trending lists should be a reflection of the actual topics gaining most attention amongst netizens, but that companies and entertainment enterprises have found ways to influence these lists.

On Monday, Financial Times also reiterated that Chinese digital agencies are selling fake rankings on Weibo’s “hot topics” list.

Besides buying targeted marketing space on Weibo, which is actually clearly marked as third-party advertising, companies and celebrities can get a hashtag of choice into the top trending lists for as little as 8000 yuan (±$1260) by which digital agencies create fake Weibo accounts pushing a topic up the charts.

Other big social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are allegedly facing similar problems that falsely affect the top trending lists and platform algorithms.

Weibo administrators promised they would “effectively crackdown on the illicit competition that is harming the [online] community.”

 
Naughty Corner for Celebrities
 

Based on online data of the past month, Weibo administrators issued a list of 38 celebrity names, topics, and hashtags that were allegedly illegally bought up the trending charts by companies.

These names and topics will not be allowed to appear in the top trending lists for the months to come. Here are eight examples of names provided by Weibo.

1. One of these banned topics is the actress Li Xiaolu (李小璐), who recently made it to the top trending lists for her extramarital affair with hip-hop artist PG One.

Li Xiaolu is banned from the top trending lists on Weibo for the next 3 months.

2. Another name that won’t go ‘trending’ for the coming months is that of Chinese singer, songwriter, and actress Zhou Bichang aka Bibi Zhou (周笔畅). Bibi Zhou is also accused of paying money to get herself to the top trending lists on Weibo.

However, Bibi Zhou responded to the accusations on January 28, saying that “all the money I have I put into my music videos – I cannot afford [to spend money on] hot search lists.”

3. Chinese comedian Song Xiaobao (宋小宝)

The comedian Song Xiaobo, who stars in the TV show Joyful Comedians (欢乐喜剧人), will not be able to promote himself nor the show in the top lists on Weibo for the time to come.

Chinese comedian Song Xiaobao (宋小宝).

4. Taiwanese singer Lai Guanlin (赖冠霖)

Lai Guanlin, who is part of the popular South Korean boy band Wanna One, was reported to participate in upcoming TV programme “Idol Star Athletics Championships.” Further promotions for this appearance are unlikely to come through on the trending lists now.

Lai Guanlin (赖冠霖)

5. Chinese actress Zhang Xueying (张雪迎) aka Sophie Zhang

Actress Zhang Xueying reached the hot lists earlier this month for her pretty bald head look for her role in Go Away Mr. Tumor, a play that revolves around a woman who copes with cancer.

Zhang Xueying (张雪迎).

6. Wang Lele (王乐乐)

Internet celebrity Wang LeLe is a grassroots celebrity from live-streaming app Kuaishou who has attracted much (negative) attention over recent times for the rocky and drama-filled relationship with Yang Qingning (杨清柠).

7. ‘Brother Martial Arts’ (散打哥)

‘Brother Martial Arts’ aka Chen Weijie (陈伟杰) is an internet celebrity that emerged from the live-streaming platform Kuaishou.

Kuaishou star ‘Brother Martial Arts’.

8. Shawn Wei (魏千翔)

Shawn Wei (Wei Qianxiang) is a Chinese post-80s actor who is currently starring in the popular urban drama ‘My Youth Meets You’ (我的青春遇见你).

Shawn Wei

Although he is not a significantly big influential on Weibo, rumors of his company ‘buying his popularity’ on Weibo are long-standing.

 
Weibo Responses
 

The topic of the recent ban on Weibo hot lists itself became a much-discussed issue on Chinese social media. Many netizens dislike the fact that so many celebrities buy their way into the top trending lists, but also express their dissatisfaction with the list of names exposed by Sina Weibo: “There are so many people who frequently buy themselves into the hot lists, yet why are they not on this list?”, many said.

Others jumped in to defend their idols: “Why would Lai Guanlin be on this list?!” They say that people such as Lai Guanlin and Zhang Xueyin have been unjustly targeted by Chinese censors.

There are also people who wonder why they can no longer access the hot search and trending lists, because it is not so much the Sina Weibo company and the celebrities who are now punished, but the Weibo-loving netizens.

“How boring life is without the hot lists,” some say.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    thedramacool

    February 3, 2018 at 4:31 pm

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie “Sister” Stirs Discussions on Traditional Family Values in China

The movie ‘Sister’ has sparked online discussions on whether or not personal values should be prioritized over traditional family values.

Manya Koetse

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Mainlaind Chinese drama My Sister (我的姐姐, also known as ‘Sister‘) was just released in theatres and is sparking online discussions on family relations and the role of women in China.

After the hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) received praise earlier this year for focusing on the role of mothers within Chinese families, this film zooms in on the role of older sisters.

My Sister, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. While trying to find her own path in life, she suddenly has to step into the role of caregiver for her younger sibling. But does she want to take on this role?

Actress Zhang Zifeng (张子枫) is playing the main lead in this movie, which touches upon the issue of dealing with traditional family values and personal dreams and ambitions. Sister reveals the difficulties women face within the traditional Chinese-style family structure and the sacrifices they make for their parents, their children, siblings, and their husbands; and how the roles and tasks that are expected of them also clash with their own ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

For An Ran, the relationship with her little brother is troublesome. As a young girl, she had to pretend to be disabled in order to allow her parents to have a second child, preferably a son (under the One Child Policy, families with children with disabilities were allowed to have more children). Now, as a young adult, she once again has to sacrifice her own individual freedom in order to let her brother thrive.

The renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) dedicated a lengthy post to the movie on her Weibo account, where she called the film “fascinating” and “thought-provoking.”

Li suggests that multiple social issues play a role in this film. First, there is the conflict between individual-oriented values and traditional family-oriented ethics. While traditional Chinese ideas about family require An Ran to put her brother first and move personal self-fulfillment to the backseat, An Ran is a young woman who grew up in a rapidly modernizing China where women are more empowered and independent. Why should she sacrifice her personal education and career in order to devote herself to raising her brother?

Another social topic that plays a major role in this film is the deep-seated cultural preference for sons over daughters. An Ran literally had to make herself weaker in order for her brother to be brought into this world – and in doing so limiting the possibilities for her future career, – with these patriarchal practices prioritizing the thriving of sons over the happiness of daughters. An Ran’s anger and resistance show that traditional ideas about male superiority clash with modern-day Chinese society, where profound changes within gender relations are already taking place.

“Sisters do not dislike their little brothers,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “What they dislike is the hidden meaning behind their brother.”

Another female blogger responded: “Within my family, from my grandpa’s generation up to myself, it is actually the women who discriminate against women. I think these are deeply rooted ideas that can’t be changed. Look at my second elder aunt; she had seven children, all girls, and only four were left. The others were given away. However, my grandfather has always been good to me, and has never made me feel any less than the boys. Yet my grandma and my mother sometimes make me doubt about my life.”

Under the hashtag “How to Evaluate the Movie My Sister” (#如何评价电影我的姐姐#), which attracted 150 million views on Weibo, many ask the question of what they would do if they were An Ran. Would you take care of your little brother? Or would you leave his care up to other family members and choose your own path in life?

“If it were me, I’d raise my brother. Although it’s actually the parents’ problem, the little brother is innocent.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t raise him,” another commenter writes: “Although the little brother is innocent, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my life for him. And it might be a better choice to leave him with other family members than with me.”

These discussions also triggered the hashtag “Should Personal Values Be More Important Than Family Values?” (#个人价值必须高于家庭价值吗#). One top commenter raised the issue of ‘what if this was about a little sister instead of about a little brother,’ again provoking the idea that existing gender roles and the preference over sons play a major part in these discussions.

“These traditions no longer suit this era of a developing society. Let me ask you this question: would the little brother also take care of his sister once she grows old?”

“Personal values should always have priority. If you are not happy yourself, how could you ever take care of your family?”

“I have the perception that the family-oriented concept is deep-rooted. Although there consistently are new values and personal-oriented viewpoints, when it comes to real problems, most people will still be family-oriented.”

One commenter wrote: “What are ‘values’? What is the family in modern-day society? What does it mean to prioritize something? If we don’t first clarify this, the discussion becomes meaningless.”

Meanwhile, all the online discussions on Sister have boosted the film. By now, the movie has already become a box office hit and defeated the American Godzilla vs. Kong.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

Female Comedian Yang Li and the Intel Controversy

A decision that backfired: Intel’s act of supposed ‘inclusion’ caused the exclusion of female comedian Yang Li.

Manya Koetse

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“How to look at the boycott of Yang Li?” (#如何看待抵制杨笠#) became a top trending topic on social media site Weibo on Monday after female comedian Yang Li was dismissed as the spokesperson for American tech company Intel over a controversial ad campaign.

On March 18, Intel released an ad on its Weibo account in which Yang says “Intel has a taste [for laptops] that is higher than my taste for men” (“英特尔的眼光太高了,比我挑对象的眼光都高.”)

The ad drew complaints for allegedly insulting men, with some social media users vowing to boycott the tech brand. On Sunday, Intel deleted the ad in question from its social media page and reportedly also removed Yang from her position as their brand ambassador.

The commotion over the ad had more to do with Chinese comedian Yang Li (杨笠) than with the specific lines that were featured in it.

Yang Li is controversial for her jokes mocking men (“men are adorable, but mysterious. After all, they can look so average and yet be so full of confidence“), with some blaming her for being “sexist” and “promoting hatred against all men.”

Since she appeared on the stand-up comedy TV competition Rock and Roast (脱口秀大会) last year, she was nicknamed the the “punchline queen” and became one of the more influential comedians in present-day China. Yang now has nearly 1,5 million fans on Weibo (@-杨笠-).

Yang Li’s bold jokes and sharp way of talking about gender roles and differences between men and women in Chinese society is one of the main reasons she became so famous. Intel surely knew this when asking Yang to be their brand ambassador.

In light of the controversy, the fact that Intel was so quick to remove Yang also triggered criticism. Some (male) netizens felt that Intel, a company that sells laptops, could not be represented by a woman who makes fun of men, while these men are a supposed target audience for Intel products.

But after Yang was removed, many (female) netizens also felt offended, suggesting that in the 21st century, Intel couldn’t possibly believe that their products were mainly intended for men (“以男性用户为主”)? Wasn’t their female customer base just as important?

According to online reports, Intel responded by saying: “We noted that the content [we] spread relating to Yang Li caused controversy, and this is not what we had anticipated. We place great importance on diversity and inclusion. We fully recognize and value the diverse world we live in, and are committed to working with partners from all walks of life to create an inclusive workplace and social environment.”

However, Intel’s decision backfired, as many wondered why having Yang as their brand ambassador would not go hand in hand with ‘promoting an inclusive social environment.’

“Who are you being ‘inclusive’ too? Common ‘confident’ men?”, one person wrote, with others saying: “Why can so many beauty and cosmetic brands be represented by male idols and celebrities? I loathe these double standards.”

“As a Chinese guy, I really think Yang Li is funny. I didn’t realize Chinese men had such a lack of humor!” another Weibo user writes.

There are also people raising the issue of Yang’s position and how people are confusing her performative work with her actual character. One popular law blogger wrote: “Really, boycotting Yang Li is meaningless. Stand-up comedy is a performance, just as the roles people play in a TV drama.”

Just a month ago, another Chinese comedian also came under fire for his work as a brand ambassador for female underwear brand Ubras.

It is extremely common in China for celebrities to be brand ambassadors; virtually every big celebrity is tied to one or more brands. Signing male celebrities to promote female-targeted products is also a popular trend (Li 2020). Apparently, there is still a long way to go when the tables are turned – especially when it is about female celebrities with a sharp tongue.

By Manya Koetse

Li, Xiaomeng. 2020. “How powerful is the female gaze? The implication of using male celebrities for promoting female cosmetics in China.” Global Media and China, Vol.5 (1), p.55-68.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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