Planet China

Holding cell

The emergency services in the UK keep records of telephone calls that waste their time, like a distress call to police in London last year by a citizen who wanted to report a suspicious-looking fox.

These lists are intended to remind people to keep the line for genuine emergencies. In Zhejiang province, the same message was sent recently but a lot more severely: one timewaster was jailed for six days.

The young offender is a 19 year-old online celebrity, called Xiaowang. He’s one of many to find fame and some fortune by broadcasting across China’s various social media and streaming platforms.

Xiaowang has close to seven million followers and sometimes earns over Rmb10,000 ($1,450) a day. But fame and privacy are often at odds. Xiaowang clicked in error on a malicious link which installed malware and exposed his telephone number to his followers. Before long, the star was inundated with calls from strangers. So the internet celeb decided to reroute all incoming calls to 110, the number for the Chinese emergency services. After making this change, the local response unit received more than a thousand calls during a half-hour window: more than 500 times the regular volume for that hour. When the police noticed that these calls were all coming from the same number, they traced it back to Xiaowang.

“Everyday in here is so hard,” the forlorn star said from prison. “When I get out, I won’t break the law again.”

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