Author: Joyce Chan

Joyce Chan is a freelance researcher with a particular interest in Chinese politics, media and foreign policy. She is fluent in Cantonese, English, Mandarin, German and Swedish.

Fandoms and “Digital Labor” in China

The Trouble With Fandoms

Joyce Chan: Fandom culture recently became a new target of the Cyberspace Administration of China (10-point guidelines published on 27 August), because of celebrity scandals and fan community cultures that are seen to be overstepping boundaries. Could you briefly explain the rationale behind this? Why are fandoms seen as a problem? 

Yiyi Yin: This was not the first time a fandom-related policy was released. In the past few years, online fandoms have been portrayed by the state and media as a source of trouble, and thus recognized by the public as such. Several socially influential cases happened, including the conflict between celebrity fans and the site AO3 (227 incident), and more recently the case of Kris Wu and Zhehan Zhang.

Cases like these led directly to the adoption of the policy, which should not be understood simply as a regulation of fandom, but more generally of the whole internet sphere, and of capital expansion of both internet companies and the entertainment industry. In other words, the current regulation is in fact targeting more on the platforms, celebrities, and entertainment companies, rather than merely on fans.

Joyce Chan: In your paper, you talk about “emotional capitalism” and “emotional labor” when you write about fandoms. Could you explain for our readers how fandoms in China work, and how you see these concepts applying to Chinese fandom in particular?

Yiyi Yin: It’s quite complicated to explain. In general, we see fans often contributing, first of all, to the public image or popularity of the so-called idols, celebrities or fan objects. Secondly, the material profits benefiting the fan objects. Their contribution was based on the affective intimacy, [a perception of closeness and emotional bonding], that was both imagined and manifested in fan practices. In one sense, the capitalization of fandom was facilitated and legitimated by this kind of affective intimacy or the affective para-social relationship between fans and the fan objects.

In China, digital labor was constructed as an efficient way to actualize or manifest this affective relationship, as the data itself has become an “object” relating fans’ affective pursuit and the celebrities who were not actually accessible offline.

A cartoon posted by the news app for the official People’s Daily newspaper in August 2021, as new measures against fandoms are introduced, reads: “Crooked ‘Fandom Culture’ Must Be Cooled Down.” It shows a celebrity idol in a cage being pulled along by adoring fans, marionettes manipulated by large arms that say “fandoms” and “traffic” — as idol shouts, “Somebody save me!”

Joyce Chan: Just to clarify, the term “digital labor” refers to the often-unpaid work of social media users creating value by generating interaction with idols. Is that correct? And are there any figures available to indicate the level of economic activity that has been created in recent years by the relationship between fans and their idols?

Yiyi Yin: I would define digital labor as the often-unpaid work of social media users creating value by patterned use of digital media, and in the case of fandom, this patterned way of media use is legitimated affectively by the interaction or imaginary interaction between fans and idols. I don’t think I have any figures indicating the level of digital labor or its generated economic activity, but you might be able to find some useful data in the annual reports on entertainment industry. Tencent publishes an Entertainment White Paper (娱乐白皮书) every year, and I believe they have included some reports on fandoms.

The Social Impact of Fandoms

Joyce Chan: Moving on to the social impact of fandom culture, it seems clear from several cases in recent years that fandoms have been highly organized communities. And they’ve mobilized around a lot of issues beyond just favored idols. For example, around aid for the fight against Covid. Could you speak briefly about the organizational power of fandoms? 

Yiyi Yin: One reason is because the fan community is usually mobilized affectively. It gains organizational and activist power from affective identifications and enthusiastic love. They consider the collective fan practices, including fan-cheering, collective purchasing and helping the fight against Covid-19 as the embodied practice manifesting the imaginative intimacy between them and the idols. Some of these practices both favored the idols and the public, while others might only favor the idols and relevant actors – for example, purchases and so on.

The fan organization has a long history going back to the 1980s and has developed to be more organizational, facilitated by the Internet and social media platforms like Weibo. Weibo serves as a very important platform for Chinese online fan culture, as it enables different fan communities and fandoms to be connected and visible to the public. This kind of visibility and connectivity influences the organizational structure of fandoms and how they mobilize themselves to perform in front of the public in some way. I would say the organizational power of fans is sometimes performative as well.

“I would define digital labor as the often-unpaid work of social media users creating value by patterned use of digital media, and in the case of fandom, this patterned way of media use is legitimated affectively by the interaction or imaginary interaction between fans and idols.”

Joyce Chan: When you say that the power of fans is “performative,” what exactly do you mean by that? Could you provide an example of how this works in practice?

Yiyi Yin: Fans sometimes mobilized themselves to “perform” the good public image of the celebrity. For example, in the case of Covid-19, fans donated under the name of an idol primarily to contribute to the reputation of the celebrity. In this case, the primary significance of their actions is not always about the political or social good, but about the visibility of the celebrity, as in how the online public would perceive the celebrities because of their acts. If we consider fan practice as a form of performance, then the prediction and the attempt to control visibility serve as a significant rationale for their acts.

Joyce Chan: Could you describe the fan practices that are characteristic of such fandom groups? Are the groups now banned from continuing these practices due to the “purification” of the online atmosphere on various platforms? 

Yiyi Yin: As I described in my article, digital labor has become a daily practice for many celebrity fans. Besides voting as a ritualized practice, their digital practices include “comment spamming” (控评), “anti-trolling” (反黑), and “formatting postings” that would be counted towards traffic data and that can boost the online visibility of the celebrity. These digital labors have often been organized and motivated by the social media platform logic that is driven by traffic data.

For now, the groups are not technically banned. Nevertheless, since the regulation targets platform rules in terms of traffic generation, some of the digital practices might be restricted. For fans, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since they didn’t actually enjoy carrying out the practices in the first place. The acts of digital labor were dictated by the platform infrastructure, and fans had no choice but to accept the affective power attached to them.

Joyce Chan:  It’s interesting that you describe voting here as a “ritualized practice.” Could you explain what you mean by that? How does it play a role in social media algorithms for fandoms?

Yiyi Yin: Traditional voting takes place through a competition, which only lasts for several months and leads to a result with significant titles. In voting, fans have to organize themselves as a sort of working group or voting group to participate in the particular competition. This is how the voting has been ritualized.

However, in the algorithmic fan culture, digital labor has become embedded into the everyday practice of online fans. They don’t need to join any group or take serious tasks to complete the voting, but only need to post in particular formats or sign in to Weibo every day. The data contribution has been routinized in common fan practice and even common media use. For fans, this is how they use social media platforms.

Joyce Chan: If we can turn for a moment to the topic of fandom nationalism. Can you tell us how the development of fandom nationalism, exemplified by the construct of “Brother A-Zhong” (阿中哥) – a kind of idolization of the Chinese nation – and Diba Expeditions, has influenced the overall dynamic of fandom culture on Chinese social media? 

Yiyi Yin: I am not an expert on fan nationalism, so I might not be able to answer the question profoundly. I would say the development of online nationalism might influence the atmosphere of the internet sphere more broadly, rather than only fan cultures. It’s also a tricky thing to equalize the “fans” of Brother A-Zhong and fans in the Diba cases to the fans or celebrity fans we discussed in other questions. The “fandomization” (the appropriation of fan practices) and the rise of online nationalism can be considered as parallel in the internet sphere in China.

Joyce Chan: Does the rise of fandom nationalism concern the authorities in China? It certainly seems to have been a rather grassroots, even to some extent democratic, phenomenon. Is that a concern now?

Yiyi Yin: Again, I’m not an expert regarding this topic, but from what I know, the rise of fandom nationalism has become a kind of mobilized power that concerns the authorities. There have been cases that the social media account of Communist Youth League tried to announce virtual idols to mobilize “mainstream” fans.

Joyce Chan: So, what impact do you think the new rules about fandom culture will have on fandoms in China? 

Yiyi Yin: So far, I would say there are some good signs especially in terms of platform regulation. The new rules have shut down platform league tables, which somewhat “released” the fans from the ongoing practice of digital labor. The online visibility of fandoms decreased as well, which I believe might be a protection rather than a restriction of fan culture. Nevertheless, as fandoms have concerned the authorities increasingly, fandoms, especially celebrity fandoms, will probably become more “mainstream” in the future.

A quote card posted to social media by the official CCTV News reads: “These sort of ‘fandoms’ running amok,” urging the need for new regulations.

Joyce Chan: That sounds quite unexpected and even counterintuitive. Can you elaborate a bit more on the logic that while platform regulations decrease online visibility of fans, fandoms would become “more mainstream” in the future? What do you mean by this?

Yiyi Yin: As I mentioned, the attempt to control the visibility of celebrity, such as preventing negative rumors or news of the celebrity to appear in the trending list; or increasing the visibility of the positive public image of idols by donating materials to Wuhan in the case of Covid, is the significant rationale underlying online fan practices in China. In this process, fans have to compete with other participants on social media platforms such as fans of competitors, the digital media, entertainment reporters and so on.

To some extent, fans have no choice but to take part in this game of visibility, otherwise they would lose control of the visibility of their idols’ public images. This is exactly how emotional capitalism works, since the social media platform sometimes convinces the fans that the consequence of losing visibility could be miserable, like by protecting or promoting certain digital media accounts that routinely spread false rumors. Therefore, for fandom specifically, the regulation indicates an “authoritative” selection of visibility.

As the new policy cuts off the visibility of celebrity and digital fandoms by removing several league tables and trending topic rankings, visibility in this sense would no longer be “controlled” by the platform, but by the authorities. Consequently, fans on the one hand wouldn’t need to compete against others for visibility, on the other hand they would have to act more “mainstream” as a “societally positive community” when they find themselves in the public eye. [Editor’s Note: “Societally positive” here refers to the government-sanctioned positive moral values, which the authorities wish to put in place through the new regulations. “Mainstream” in this context refers to values in line with official frames, just as “mainstream media” in a Chinese context refers specifically to Party-state media.]

Joyce Chan: Do you foresee the fandom community resisting the regulations in some way or trying to alter the mechanisms placed on social media platforms, given their demonstrated creativity as been described in your journal article, “An Emergent Algorithmic Culture: the Data-ization of Online Fandom in China“? 

Yiyi Yin: I would say that fans will find their own way to survive, which is why I insisted that fan groups would not be banned or disappear. Fans have been highly creative and flexible individuals, who would participate in affective practices in multiple ways.

Since the offline era, fans often traveled from one site to another, developing creative ways to manifest, embody and actualize their affect. I would say that the current regulation would largely influence the forms and rules of digital fan practices, but would not dismiss the fan culture. Fans might not directly resist the regulation, but they will find ways to negotiate and live with it. This is how fan culture has always been shifting.

An Olympic Censorship Slip

Users of livestreaming services topped 600 million in China in 2020, and live streamers have become a powerful force driving the growth of e-commerce in the country. But live streaming has also prompted concern from internet regulators, who see immense potential for a range of abuses in the fast-growing medium – from the marketing of low-quality and counterfeit goods and concerns over standards of basic decency, to violations of political discipline.

When the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s chief internet regulatory and control body, issued new regulations on live-streaming back in February this year, concerns over the protection of youth and over data security were topped by language about “enhancing mainstream value leadership” (提升主流价值引领), code for the need for platforms to enforce the values of the CCP. The rules also talked about the need for “positive energy” (正能量) to permeate livestreams and the internet generally – this being a term closely associated with the suppression of criticism of the leadership.

But while enforcing censorship guidelines may sound like a rather straight-forward business, it can actually be a messy process for the authorities and internet companies alike. In some cases, enforcement can backfire, achieving the opposite of the intended effect.

An excellent example of this occurred recently during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, for which the Chinese internet giant Tencent has been sublicensed broadcasting rights from the state conglomerate China Media Group. Sublicenses were granted to operators like Tencent and Kuaishou, a leading video platform, in order to help boost access to the Games, allowing Chinese users to view sports content through mobile services like Tencent Sports, Tencent Video, QQ.com, Tencent News, and of course WeChat.

During the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23, however, Tencent Video, which has more than 600 million monthly active users in China, made a major fumble as it sought to abide by censorship guidelines. As the Taiwanese delegation of athletes entered the stadium and was introduced by an anchor as being from “Taiwan” rather than from “Chinese Taipei” – the latter being a condition of the island’s participation in the Games settled back in 1981 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to respond to China’s objections on sovereignty grounds – Tencent Video responded by quickly interrupting the live broadcast. The livestreaming app replaced the broadcast of the ceremony with a 20-minute segment discussing Olympic sports.

As the talk dragged on, millions of Chinese tuning in to the live stream at Tencent Video were missing an event they had tuned in especially to see: the entry of the 777-strong delegation of athletes from the People’s Republic of China, the largest delegation in Olympic history. Many were furious, as could be seen by the bullet comments streaming across the broadcast. “We want to see the Olympics,” said one frustrated comment. “What are you doing?” another asked. “Cut back!” several demanded.

A screenshot of the live broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23, with sports talk replacing the broadcast from the Olympic Stadium.

The disruption by Tencent, a decision taken to anticipate objections from the authorities,  drew fierce protests from angered Chinese netizens, who demanded an apology for “selling out our country” at a crucial moment many had eagerly awaited. There were even calls to uninstall the streaming app.

Tencent’s intention, no doubt, was to circumvent a possible violation of propaganda guidelines in their live broadcast. But its inadvertent censorship of the grand entry by China’s own national team immediately rankled with patriotic users, who took to Weibo and other platforms to accuse Tencent of “disrespecting the Motherland,” calling the company “a traitor that deserves to be investigated.”

Weibo users furious at Tencent’s decision to interrupt its broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Olympics leave angry comments on the Tencent Video app.

The process behind Tencent’s decision during the live stream of the opening ceremony remains unclear. Was it a technical problem? Or a man-made blunder as the company strove to abide by censorship demands? In an apology posted to Weibo the day after the incident, Tencent attributed the situation to unspecified “demands from the copyright holder.”

Tencent Video issues an apology via Weibo on July 24 concerning its decision to cut away from a live-stream of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.

Did this refer to the China Media Group, the holder of the broadcast license? Again, it was unclear.

“In Olympics reports from now on,” Tencent Video said, “we will listen to the views of others, and do our utmost to do better.”  In the fast-paced and fast-growing livestreaming sector, and with both users and censorship authorities to please, that may prove a difficult promise to keep.

Sweeping Up the Government’s Social Media Mess

On May 1, as India faced a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections amid a chronic shortage of hospital beds and oxygen, a Weibo post by China Chang’an Web (中国长安网) sought to grab readers by playing to a sense of national pride. The post showed two images side-by-side: on the left, China’s Tianhe space module burning off rocket fuel; on the right, the scene of a mass outdoor cremation of Covid-19 victims in India. “China lighting fires VS India lighting fires,” read the snide text of the post.

The juxtaposition quickly triggered a massive social media storm in China. While some defended the post, others saw it as morally reprehensible, displaying cruel disregard for the people of India. Beyond the debate over substance, the post prompted deeper questions about the role of China’s so-called “government affairs new media” (政务新媒体), those social media accounts operated by administrative organs and institutions at all levels in order to help disseminate the policies of the central leadership to the grassroots – and to transmit upwards the concerns of the public. 

Why was the Weibo account of China Chang’an Web, a site operated by the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a powerful body directly under the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), creating sensational clickbait that served only to sow hatred and division? Surely the post, coming just one day after Xi Jinping had sent his official condolences to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was undermining diplomacy by playing to the worst impulses of online nationalists.

Screenshot of a Weibo post by @China Chang’an Web in May 2021 that drew a firestorm of criticism.

In fact, the China Chang’an Web post, which was subsequently deleted, was an embarrassment underscoring a far more widespread problem: rampant negligence and mismanagement among the very government affairs new media that were promoted 12 years ago in China as a breakthrough in communication between the government and the public. 

Four Ailments

In April, China’s State Council issued new orders to overhaul social media accounts belonging to government branches and offices in an effort to tackle persistent mismanagement and neglect. Reporting on the issue shortly after the State Council release, the official Xinhua Daily Telegraph noted accounts that had been “opened but not properly operated,” deviating from their government affairs role. Other accounts were simply dormant, without regular updates. Still others had grown unruly, morphing into “marketing accounts,” or yingxiaohao (营销号), pushing content with the sole, and cynical, purpose of drawing traffic.

The statement demanded a course correction from government-run social media accounts, predominantly on the WeChat and Weibo platforms, as authorities sought to crack down on four outstanding issues:

  • Dormant accounts without updates within two weeks
  • Indiscriminate sensationalist content and an excessive tendency toward entertainment content
  • Sharing of content irrelevant to government affairs
  • Delayed deactivation of neglected accounts

Of these four issues, the government cited dormant, or “zombie,” accounts as the chief complaint. Such neglect was sometimes the result of government organs abandoning accounts after launching them in the midst of nationwide campaigns that advocated greater use of new media platforms without sufficient guidance or resources. A State Council opinion released in October 2013, for example, pushed for “strengthening openness of government affairs information to respond to social concerns,” and said that “all regions and departments should actively explore the use of government microblogs, WeChat and other new media for the timely release of authoritative government information.”

In many cases, accounts were not updated with any meaningful information for long stretches of time. The blindness on the part of government departments could sometimes lead to account breaches. In one of the most notorious cases, it was discovered in 2015 that the official Weibo account of a local court in Hubei had been hijacked to repost ads for beauty products, mobile phones and electronics. This happened for nearly 10 months before it came to the attention of court staff. This egregious blunder drew national attention – providing comic relief for the masses, if not substantive government affairs content.

The Weibo account of the court in the city of Chengde is programmed to share commercial ads, this one for cosmetics, claiming: “We’ll help you get a guy!”

Upon closer inspection, these lapses in professionalism could be linked to the quantitative standards applied by the central authorities to gauge the online influence of government social media. Owing to the disproportionate weight given to the amount of accumulated followers and likes, content quality naturally falls by the wayside as account operators race for novelty and online popularity. Government officials at lower levels are often under immense pressure to rapidly expand their social media presence, leading them to churn out eyeball-grabbing clickbait to compete against other government accounts.

Flourishing Problems

The first official government affairs Weibo account, “@TaoyuanWang” (@桃源网), was launched in China on November 2, 2009, followed less than three weeks later by “@WeiboYunnan” (@微博云南), operated by Yunnan’s provincial propaganda department. In the more than 10 years since, government affairs new media accounts have developed rapidly – or “furiously,” to borrow the wording used by People’s Daily Online in its own review of the phenomenon. And the secret behind this furious development also explains why such glaring problems have emerged.

Beginning in 2009, the Chinese government actively encouraged government branches to establish a social media presence and to take advantage of advancements in digital technology. The use of new media mushroomed across various platforms from 2013 through 2015, as every branch sought to engage new generations of Chinese plugged in to the mobile internet. 

But in rather stark contrast to the strong centralized controls enforced on much of Chinese media and the internet, particularly during an era in which Xi Jinping has demanded media loyalty and sought to remake controls over cyberspace, official social media accounts have seemed to operate without stringent management or intervention. Central supervision of the government’s own social media accounts has been weak in practice, and this means they have often flourished in the wrong ways.

Rather than giving their own affiliates and departments a public dressing-down, the central government has historically adopted a low-key approach in the form of “opinion” statements and “notification” papers. In December 2018, the State Council issued its “Opinion on the Healthy and Orderly Development of Government Affairs New Media” (国务院办公厅关于推进政务新媒体健康有序发展的意见), which laid out both problems and action points. The opinion clearly spelled out both the government’s hopes for official new media as a resource for boosting credibility and enhancing control of public opinion (“channelling”), and its concerns about how these accounts were having in many cases precisely the opposite effect:

Government affairs new media are important channels for the Party and the government to connect with the masses, serve the masses and unite the masses in the mobile internet era. [They are] an important means to accelerate the transformation of government functions and build a service-oriented government, and an important front on which to channel online public opinion and build a clear cyberspace environment . . . . But at the same time, some government affairs new media have outstanding problems such as a lack of clear function and positioning, lax release of information, unstandardized operation and maintenance, poor supervision and oversight, and so on, and such phenomena as “zombie” (僵尸) accounts, “sleeping” (睡眠) accounts, “shocking remarks” (雷人雷语), and “lack of interactivity and service” (不互动无服务) occur. These have an adverse effect on the image and credibility of the government.

This whip-crack for a supposed overhaul of government affairs new media even attracted attention from some international media, the Reuters news agency noting that China’s cabinet had “warned government departments to clean up their social media image amid a drive to bolster the government’s online presence to help reach tech-savvy young people who get their information from smartphones.” The State Council followed in April 2019 by releasing a set of measurement indicators to ensure “scientific management and standardised guidance” of government affairs new media from the central policy level.

Screenshot of the State Council’s “Opinion on the Healthy and Orderly Development of Government Affairs New Media,” released in December 2018.

When it comes to policy, the central government has clearly intensified its efforts to rein in unruly government black sheep on social media, and stave off damage to the government’s social media image.

In practice, however, these government pronouncements have often failed to trickle down into action. Coverage of the issue in state media suggests that pragmatic solutions have not followed. The abovementioned article in the Xinhua Daily Telegraph last month found a wide range of inadequacies among official social media accounts. It found that language about “zombie” and “shell” (空壳) accounts, those rarely updated or not posting content at all, figured prominently in several provincial-level surveys of government websites and social media accounts during the first quarter of 2021. A report from the Hubei provincial government, for example, noted that one government affairs new media account in Tongshan County had not released a single item of information since its launch years ago, and another government account in Fang County, west of the city of Xiangyang, was last updated in October 2019.

In many cases too, the report noted, government websites and social media accounts purporting to offer interactive services for citizens, such as complaints and recommendations, were not actually functioning, so that those writing were faced with a wall of silence. In one case back in March this year, a Weibo user from the city of Ma’anshan, in Anhui province, posted online about his frustrations in trying to reach out through the city’s official social media account, “Ma’anshan City People’s Government Announcements” (马鞍山市人民政府发布), to address an outstanding concern. The user noted that his attempt to send a personal message to the government account yielded a message that said: “Owing to settings from the other party, this information cannot be sent.”

A message sent by a user to the official government Weibo of Ma’anshan returns a notice that the account is closed to personal messaging.

The Xinhua Daily Telegraph reporter also found quite a number of official social media accounts that were engaged in questionable commercial activities, such as marketing products, or that were focused on celebrity and entertainment.

In a commentary for the China Youth Daily newspaper on May 12, as the impact of the snide post from China Chang’an Web still reverberated, Ma Liang (马亮), a professor of public administration at Renmin University of China, wrote that quality should trump quantity when it comes to assessing the online influence of official social media accounts. “The assessment and evaluation of government affairs new media should not be about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ measure of traffic,” Ma wrote. “Rather, it should focus on whether the relevant department is making good use of new media channels for information dissemination, the provision of services and interactive communication.”

On May 17, the Shanghai government released its own report looking at government affairs new media and websites operating under its jurisdiction. The report noted numerous problems, including misrepresentation of government policies and failure to update channels and ensure they remained active. The report even included a shame list of government affairs new media that had not been updated for at least two weeks at the time of investigation.

A May 2021 report from the Shanghai government includes a list of government affairs new media that have not been regularly updated.

More or Less?

Ma proposed a number of necessary steps for systematic restructuring. Among them, he suggested that the government not resort to blanket mandates for the creation of official social media channels. “There should not be excessive requirements for comprehensive coverage of government affairs new media,” he said. “Nor should there be compulsory orders for Party and government organs to register accounts on all new media platforms.”

The development of government affairs new media has been conceived by the CCP as part of a larger process of remolding the traditional “mainstream” media – meaning the Party-state media system that works to enforce the Party’s dominance over public opinion. Following Xi Jinping’s mandate for the reorganization of official media at an August 2014 meeting of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Reform, at which he called for greater integration of new media and CCP-led traditional outlets, a report from Tsinghua University stressed the importance of government affairs new media. Official social media channels had the potential, according to the report, to act as channels offering greater interaction between the government and the general public. Government affairs new media might “provide ways for government departments to communicate with the public and improve the quality of services, and also provide interactive platforms for the general public to monitor the government and provide feedback.”

Despite the talk of quality, however, the Tsinghua University report was focused on numbers and rankings. It noted that by October 31, 2014, 16,446 government affairs accounts had been registered on the WeChat platform, and a staggering 116,607 government affairs accounts had been registered on Weibo. The report’s measure of “comprehensive communication power” (综合传播力), including a Top 20 list, was essentially about traffic.

The government continues to hope that official new media channels might lead to greater interactivity and responsiveness, that they might enhance the Party’s relationship to the masses by offering clarity on policies and procedures, and by streamlining of administrative services. An April commentary at People’s Daily Online stressed that “government affairs new media are an important means to accelerate the transformation of government functions and build a service-oriented government.” Beyond that, these channels might bolster the CCP’s capacity to lead public opinion – regarded as so essential to maintaining stability.

But for the time being, clearly, government affairs new media have also become a headache, another problem to be addressed from on high. When it comes to the national rollout of official social media channels, particularly given embarrassments like the recent storm over the China Chang’an Web post, could the leadership be realizing that less is more?