China's cyberspace authorities have ordered internet companies to close 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts in the latest in a series of crackdowns on independent media. Website operators from some of China's biggest internet companies including Tencent and Baidu were told in a meeting they must take steps to control user accounts focusing on celebrity gossip, according to a post on the Beijing Cyberspace Administration's social media account.
"Websites must ... adopt effective measures to keep in check the problems of the embellishment of private sex scandals of celebrities, the hyping of ostentatious celebrity spending and entertainment, and catering to the poor taste of the public," the post said. They must also "actively propagate core socialist values, and create an ever-more healthy environment for the mainstream public opinion", it added.
President Xi Jinping has overseen a series of measures to clamp down on independent online media, while reasserting the ruling Communist Party's role in limiting and guiding online discussion.
The Cyberspace Administration of China in May released regulations for online news portals and network providers, which extended restrictions on content and required all services to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff. Show-business blogs and sites are very popular in China, especially those which regularly produce muckraking reports on celebrities' private lives.
In the meeting, the Beijing Cyberspace Administration told the internet companies that a new cyber security law that came into effect on June 1 requires websites to not harm the reputation or privacy of individuals, it said. Companies must collect and record data on any site or account that breaks the cyber security laws and report it to authorities, they said.
Sixty different accounts were ordered closed, though many were duplicates run by the same individual or group.
Fans of the closed sites reacted angrily on social media, accusing the government of failing to understand young people and to appreciate the value of holding celebrities to account. "Now it seems the entertainment crowd can brazenly and shamelessly go about their shady business, the only one who could keep them in check has been blocked," one Weibo user said of "China's Number One Paparazzi" Zhou Wei, an account that had more than 7 million viewers.