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China says it will more closely regulate influencer management firms

China says it will more closely regulate influencer management firms

A computer network cable is seen above a Chinese flag in this Jul 12, 2017 illustration photo. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas White)

BEIJING: China will "rectify" companies that manage social media influencers as part of a 10-point "clean cyberspace" plan announced on Thursday (Mar 17) by the sector regulator.

The focus of the campaign will include rectifying multi-channel network (MCN) agencies, short video and live-streaming, as well as cracking down on internet rumours, according to Sheng Ronghua, deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The addition of MCN agencies to the clean-up campaign highlights the CAC's growing concern with the firms behind much of the viral content seen on Chinese social media.

In 2020, research consultancy iiMedia Research said in China there were over 28,000 MCN agencies, which tend to manage multiple online influencers.

These influencers and their companies have come under great scrutiny in recent months over issues such as tax evasion.

Internet celebrity Viya, whose real name is Huang Wei, was fined 1.34 billion yuan (US$211.1 million) last December for hiding personal income and other offences in 2019 and 2020.

 

MCN firms are behind 40 per cent of all accounts with over 10 million followers on China's main social media platforms, according to Zhang Yongjun, a CAC official, who said future regulatory measures would target MCN firms whose influencers produce content deemed harmful to society.

"Online chaos is certainly related to the management of the website platform, but there is also a great degree of correlation with MCN agencies.

"They are even the originators of some chaos,” said Zhang, who went on to add that some agencies incited confrontation between social media users, produced soft pornographic material, hyped-up entertainment material, and promoted "wrong values" in a wide range of fields, among other issues.

Zhang then listed new measures that would target these firms including harsher punishments, banning them from producing child influencers and posting homogenous content online in bulk.

The regulator also demanded that influencers' MCN agencies be clearly displayed on their accounts and said it would set up a specialised reporting channel for social media users to "supervise" these firms.

"Our regulation of MCN agencies does not mean that we want to 'kill them with a stick', but we hope that they will be run legally and standardised," said Zhang, who added the CAC would soon release detailed rules for governing content production.

As a result of 15 "special operations" launched by the CAC last year in order to create a cyberspace that reflects China's socialist values, 1.34 billion accounts, 22 million pieces of online information, as well as over 7,200 live streamers and websites, were removed, the regulator said.

In 2021, CAC also conducted checks on the algorithms of over 300 Internet firms, news media, e-commerce platforms and video platforms, describing this as a learning experience that laid the "foundations" for further regulatory measures this year.

Source: Reuters/yb

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