While the purge of liberal microblogger Ren Zhiqiang from Sina and Tencent Weibo services has made big news in China and abroad, less press has been given to the closure of 580 more social media accounts by the Cyberspace Administration of China, including those of several celebrity bloggers, or Big Vs. The CAC issued a statement on February 26 about its shutdown of accounts it claims “‘misled the public’ or ‘violated regulations.’” From Xinhua, via Global Times:
Some Internet celebrities ignored social responsibilities and abused their influence to publish information that violated the Constitution and damaged the national interest, the CAC claimed. They also allegedly created and circulated rumors and disturbed the social order, according to the CAC website.
Among the big Vs, a term which refers to verified Weibo users who have more than 500,000 followers, who have been shut down are famous actor Sun Haiying, an editor of a Henan-based news website hnr.cn and a Beijing art center manager.
Sun has been the center of public criticism several times for making “disrespectful” comments about former leader Mao Zedong and for condemning homosexuality.
[…] The CAC also dealt with 2,000 rumors relating to transportation, food safety and public policies. In response to recent “inaccurate news stories,” including one published on the WeChat account of business magazine Caixin, Jiang called on news providers to follow journalistic ethics. [Source]
At the South China Morning Post, Nectar Gan reports that the CCP Propaganda Department affiliated site Dangjian.com accused these Big Vs of “opposing fundamental principles confirmed by the constitution“:
The article applauded the regulator’s decision to shut down the microblog accounts of Ren and a few other Big Vs, such as actress Sun Haiying and Beijing-based urban planning expert Luo Yameng. It said the commentators had “abused their own influence to attack the party and the government” and “damaged the honour and interests of the country by starting and spreading rumours to disrupt social order”.
“A few … Big Vs have prospered thanks to the party and the country’s policies … But instead of showing gratitude to society, they turn and attack the social system that has given them development and prosperity,” the post said. [Source]
Commenting on a post by Caijing, some Weibo users wondered out loud if China is regressing to the standards of the Cultural Revolution:
Echeng’eshao_991 (@鹅城恶少_991): Is it 2016 or 1966?
Xinwenjiedu (@新闻解毒): The painstaking work of 50 years, brought back to ’66 in one night.
Cartoonist Kuang Biao also interpreted the silencing of Ren Zhiqiang as a revival of Mao era political tactics.
A rumor crackdown that began in 2013 targeted liberal-leaning Big Vs like real estate mogul Pan Shiyi, Chinese-American businessman Charles Xue, and actor Sun Haiying. Combined with the rise of WeChat, the takedown of Big Vs contributed to the decline of Weibo. WeChat is more private, a social network more akin to Facebook than Twitter, but its users are not immune from censorship.