Chinese Censors Have New Target: Celebrity News

BEIJING — Whether read openly and voraciously or behind closed doors, celebrity gossip plays an integral role in the entertainment world, connecting stars and the big businesses that back them to an audience eager for the juiciest of details.

But to some officials in China, the bloggers that report those tidbits play another role: a threat to public order.

A large number of Chinese “celebrity news” blogs have disappeared in recent days after coming under the scrutiny of China’s cyberspace regulators. Their absence comes amid a broader tightening of online and media controls ahead of a once-in-every-five-years meeting of top Communist Party leaders this year, at which party officials will consider major decisions about who will lead the country in the coming years.

At a meeting on Wednesday with representatives from China’s leading internet companies, officials from the Beijing bureau of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top online regulator, called on the companies to “actively promote socialist core values” and create a “healthy, uplifting environment for mainstream opinion” by combating vulgar and sensationalist coverage of celebrity scandals and lifestyles.

Since that meeting, reported by the state broadcaster China Central Television, major Chinese internet companies like Tencent and Baidu and the news aggregation platform Jinri Toutiao have shut down more than 80 popular entertainment-related public accounts, according to state news outlets. Many were on Tencent’s WeChat social-media service, which is widely used in China and is increasingly a source of news and information.

Many of the closed blogs and accounts were making a tidy profit from advertising revenue, and some recently turned to venture capital investors as a route to growth. Zhuo Wei, known as China’s No. 1 paparazzo, had more than seven million followers for his coverage of celebrities like the singer Faye Wong and the Chinese actress Bai Baihe. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

At least one of the closed accounts was affiliated with a global brand. The entertainment-related WeChat account of the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar was shut down, although its account on Weibo, another social-media service, and its general WeChat account appeared to have survived. A…

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Chat apps we can’t do without on our phone

Like any smartphone junky, the moment my plane touched down in Jakarta, Indonesia, I immediately turned on my phone to get to work.

I skipped my inbox completely; Gmail tends to eat a lot of data when it syncs, and besides, nothing there was really time-sensitive or important. Whatever was there could wait.

Instead, I went straight to my Line chat app to coordinate my upcoming meeting in downtown Jakarta. Traffic was definitely going to be a pain. As I began to walk towards immigration, I turned to WeChat to follow up on a burning question about a planned business trip to China. As I walked towards the Blue Bird taxi stand, I previewed some new Facebook friend requests from business colleagues I had just met in Tokyo, including a polite message from another Japanese investor discussing the status of a company he had referred to me earlier. And as I finally settled into my taxi, I busily ran through about a dozen open WhatsApp conversations, including a Golden Gate Ventures’ group chat about upcoming investments, another on co-investment opportunities with a local Indonesian fund, and at least three conversations with founders from our portfolio.

So, I guess it’s more accurate to say: like any smartphone junky, the moment my plane landed I immediately turned on my messaging apps to get to work.

Asia loves chatting. This is largely due to the prevalence of social media. And when we look at Southeast Asia specifically, mass internet adoption has only only been a recent trend, which means the desktop was completely skipped over for mobile.

Why does that matter? Because two of the top three social apps in every one of these countries are messaging-first platforms, like WeChat, LINE, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Unlike other regions, such as Europe or the United States, where chat and in-app messaging are often seen as a natural extension to social networks, in Asia, the reverse is more common: messaging apps are the utilities whence social networks emerge from. Snapchat is the first to buck this trend in the U.S.

As a result, Asian consumers tend to “live” on their messaging…

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The Galaxy S8 is a gorgeous device but breaks your push notifications like Chinese devices.
The Galaxy S8 is a gorgeous device but breaks your push notifications like Chinese devices.

Ben Sin

The Galaxy S8 is a gorgeous device but breaks your push notifications like Chinese devices.

In the smartphone realm, Chinese brands have made great strides in recent years. Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus and Meizu all make excellent, top-notch hardware with good-to-great software (that are offer way more customization than what you’d find on Samsung or HTC devices), and even brands with software I’m less fond of — Vivo, Oppo, Gionee — are improving by the month. The low-end budget phones can still feel cheap and plasticky and underpowered, but use any flagship device from Xiaomi or Huawei or Meizu and the experience is more less the same as a higher-profile phone by Apple or Samsung. In fact, I’d argue that Huawei makes better and more premium-feeling hardware than Apple or Samsung (not counting the stunning S8 with the slim bezels).

One area that Chinese phones haven’t fixed — and I’m not even sure they will fix because they may see this more as a feature than a problem — is broken push notifications. For some reason, every Chinese phone has a very aggressive battery saving software feature that shuts down app when it’s not being used. That means if you have, say, the Facebook app closed, and someone leaves a comment on your profile photo, you’re not going to get a notification about that until you next open the app. This isn’t that big a deal for apps with superficial, non-important notifications — it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get notified that someone liked your selfie on Instagram right away — but for messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, it’s infuriating and potentially career/life-damaging.

Fortunately, there is a way around that, and it involves a convoluted process of digging deep into settings and turning off battery optimization one by one and also locking the important apps in the background of your phone at all times. The last step is absurd if you think about it — if you want to get Gmail notifications on time, you have to leave Gmail running on your phone at all times by locking the app in the “overview” window that pops up when you hit the square button on Android.

Because I handle like 20-plus phones a year, I’ve gotten used to setting all these things up right away and…