Digital Community: The Formation and Regulation of Weibo Super Topic Community © 2023 by Xuanyu Zhou is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Communities and platforms
According to Vaujany, Leclercq-Vandelannoitte and Holt (2019), a community is a collective of people who communicate and interact through norms of trust and mutual respect. In the collaborative economy, communities play the role of creating and enriching collective intelligence. Community members can be peers, collaborators, consumers, or other interested parties. Communities are characterized by egalitarian relationships in which the uniqueness and contribution of each member are valued by the community and its particular practices and processes.
These characteristics are very much applicable in Weibo’s ‘Super Topic’ feature. ‘Super Topic’ is a Chinese Internet buzzword, a feature introduced by Sina Weibo, where people with common interests gather to form a circle, similar to interest tribes on QQ, which are dominated mainly by celebrity idols (Baidu, 2019). In this environment on Weibo, fans can communicate with their star idols, a feature that aims to enhance communication between stars and fans and spawns a series of Super Topic community guidelines and peripheral culture.
Communities and platforms play different roles in Chinese Fandom culture. If Weibo is the platform, then the ‘Super Topic’ of celebrities opened in Weibo are a digital community dedicated to celebrities and fans. The community is made up of celebrities and fans who share resources and cooperate with each other to achieve common goals. For example, to help the stars gain a higher level of attention. The community focuses on the physical presence and interaction between its members and organizes many offline exclusive events, such as fan meet-ups. And, the social relationships in ‘Super Topic’ are more intimate and personal, and allow for more flexibility in adapting how they operate.
Weibo, on the other hand, as a platform, is an organization or company that provides the platform and infrastructure for a collaborative economy and is more focused on unifying and standardizing the global space, enabling connectivity and communication on a global scale through digital technology. In addition, there will be a unified and institutionalized management of all digital communities and ‘Super Topic’.
The relationship between communities and platforms is interdependent, but contradictions and conflicts exist. Communities and platforms form a complex relationship in the collaborative economy, influencing and shaping each other’s forms but maintaining a degree of separation and independence.
Deviance of the Fandom Community
Excessive behavior has spawned many economic and legal problems, even involving underage groups. Ranking lists are an important part of fandom in China as well as in other East Asian countries. Fans actively participate in the consumption of idol products to increase sales, thus creating their own stars by ranking idols in various ranking lists (Yang, 2009). Social media has amplified the importance of rankings, facilitated the proliferation of various charts, such as Weibo’s celebrity ranking lists, and provided ample online opportunities for chart beating (Zhang & Negus, 2020).
As a result, fans need to be active in posting, commenting, and voting in support of their idols, thus co-producing positive images of their idols as individual productions and organized groups. Autonomous fan clubs also organize these activities, often involving the efforts of entertainment companies, thus demonstrating the “two-way traffic” between fans and entertainment companies within the industry (Duffett, 2013).
Data fans understand how to track and monitor their online activities to produce quantitative measures of cultural products, employing both individual and collective strategies to influence the statistical, metrics, and semantic data collected by social media (Negus, 2019; Zhang & Negus, 2020).
China is cleaning up its entertainment industry, clamping down on what it calls a “chaotic fan culture”. It is part of a wave of crackdowns affecting sectors from e-commerce to private tutoring.
In the digital community of ‘Super Topic’, fans must follow the rules of Super Topic. And, fans need to help the leaders of the Super Topic to accomplish the appropriate tasks. For example, some fans will be asked to vote for a designated star every day. In addition, there is the task of promoting the star’s album, reposting and commenting on the star’s latest photos, posters and blogs.
Moreover, under the influence of fandom culture, ‘Super Topic’ as a digital community is becoming increasingly class-based. Within the ‘Super Topic’, fans are given different levels, even administrator rights, based on certain requirements.
The many social problems extended by fandom’s ‘Super Topic’ include, but are not limited to: voting for designated stars by purchasing voting credentials on other people’s accounts; hacking tasks on designated platforms; maliciously posting blogs that denigrate stars and charging a fee to do so; or insulting or slandering a competitor in order to defend a specific star; Infringing on others’ reputation, privacy and other legitimate rights and interests, etc.
To this point, microblogging ‘mega-topics’ have challenged established freedoms of expression and have gradually exposed the potential for potentially distorting, undermining, defending or expanding the public sphere. And, such issues have attracted the attention of all sectors of society. Subsequently, Weibo introduced the ‘Super Topic Community Convention‘ to regulate and constrain this rapidly growing new digital community.
Super Topic Community Convention
The Super Topic Community Convention is divided into five parts, and is accompanied by a ‘Self-discipline Commitment for Follow-up Comment Management’. Three of the parts are specially formulated according to the existing problems and development direction of ‘Super Topic Community’, and also confirm the theory of media and communication.
Users of Super Topic Community
The Super Topic Community Users section provides clear definitions and rules for ‘Super Topic Community Users’ and ‘Super Topic Community Official Team’, and indicates that users have the right to freedom of speech. In addition, it also clearly regulates illegal behaviors such as harming national interests and other people’s interests as well as spreading illegal information.
Explanation of Powers
The power description section explains the differences and power relations between ‘Super Topic Communities’ and ‘Microblogging Platforms’, which is also in line with Vaujany et al.’s (2019) view on the differences between platforms and communities. The Super Topic Community is created and managed by the users, and the super topic posts and microblog contents containing super topic words only represent the users’ own opinions, and have nothing to do with the station.
This shows that with the development of media and digital communities, the relationship between communities and platforms deserves more in-depth study. In addition, national image and national interest are given top priority when microblogging platforms regulate digital communities. Thus, the relationship between nationalism and digital communities in China, as well as the government’s control over digital communities and platforms is also corroborated.
As Liao, Koo and Rojas (2022) show, there are indirect mechanisms of social control in the Chinese authoritarian state. Using idols as proxies, the ideological tendencies of the broader public opinion constructed among many fans can be better controlled. Under the influence of online fan communities, fan intimacy can translate into sincere nationalist sentiments and allied rhetoric. Thus, complex interactions between the state, celebrities and fans can lead to a maelstrom of pro-government voices, making the official propaganda system efficient in shifting online public opinion.
In conclusion, Weibo’s ‘Super Topic Community’, as one of China’s leading digital media communities, has raised many questions and received widespread social attention in the course of its development. In addition, indirect social control by the state and government is a major factor affecting the development of Chinese digital communities and online fan bases. The importance of digital community development is not only to form a platform for specific groups of people to freely communicate and engage in activities. With the gradual improvement of the system, digital communities have also realized social control at the political level to a certain extent.
Some Super Topic Community:
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