When actor Wang Baoqiang announced on Sina Weibo that he was divorcing his wife in August 2016 – after accusing her of cheating on him with his agent – the news quickly went viral. Within days, the post was viewed over three billion times and generated hundreds of millions of tweets and comments (see WiC337). The scandalous affair of Wang’s wife caused such a buzz that Chinese media even dubbed it a “moment that broke the internet”.
This month another celebrity couple had a similarly disruptive impact on social media, albeit because of happier news. On October 8, pop idol Lu Han made a surprise announcement on his Sina Weibo account: he is dating actress Guan Xiaotong.
“Hello everyone, let me introduce you to my new girlfriend @Guan Xiaotong,” Lu stated. Those few words online quickly sent the country’s internet population into overdrive and even paralysed Sina Weibo’s servers for a brief period.
About an hour after Lu’s announcement, the post had generated over a million likes and more than 400,000 comments. At one point, traffic was so high that Weibo’s engineers had to stop allowing users to refresh feeds and reload comments or pages. Full functionality was only restored four hours later. Sina’s official data shows that the post has since been read a billion times and in turn generated a further 1.3 billion tweets.
Lu is a former member of the wildly popular K-pop boy band EXO. The 27 year-old is also one of the leading stars on the hugely successful reality show Running Man.
He is also a darling among advertisers that are keen to reach a younger audience – he endorses everything from Cartier to Adidas – and Chinese gossip magazines said the actor-singer made Rmb270 million ($41 million) last year.
Lu and Guan, 20, met during the shooting of the drama series Sweet Combat, in which they play two students at a sports school who fall in love.
However, Lu’s fans – mostly female – were less than thrilled about the news that he was off the market. Some went into denial, questioning whether the post was a prank or even hoping Lu’s weibo account had been hacked (sadly for them, the news was later confirmed by Lu’s production company).
Others responded with anger, saying that Guan doesn’t deserve Lu: “[Expletive]! How can you be with Guan Xiaotong? You don’t have eyes?”
“I don’t want to give them my blessing. I don’t even want to see anymore; I don’t want to read anymore (about Lu and Guan). I can’t deal with this,” another exasperated fan wrote.
Even those who eventually accepted the news weren’t necessarily supportive of the budding relationship: “Well, there is no reason to be sad. It’s not like he just announced they are getting married. After all, most relationships end in break-ups,” one netizen commented through gritted teeth.
So why did the heartthrob make such a public statement knowing he could ostracise his core fan base? Some say it was a publicity stunt to generate buzz for Sweet Combat, which has already become the most-talked-about series even before its first episode has aired.
Moreover, Lu hasn’t been in the headlines in recent months and the revelation about his relationship status has suddenly increased his exposure. Of Sina Weibo’s top 50 most talked-about topics, his relationship took up almost half of them. Even rumoured love interests like Uighur actress Dilraba Dilmurat (see WiC358 for more on her) became one of the most widely talked about subjects on the social media site.
And while some of his fans were so distraught they stopped following Lu on Weibo (he lost as many as 260,000 followers at one point), it seems the maxim that all publicity is good publicity held true. The news generated so much hype that both Lu and Guan saw their number of followers on the social media platform spike by almost two million – to 41.6 million and 21.1 million, respectively – within four days of the announcement being made.
(For comparison, Donald Trump now has about a million less followers on Twitter than Lu now does on Weibo.)
For Sina’s management the increased traffic and media coverage will be welcome news as it fends off a proxy fight from US activist fund Aristeia Capital. That said, the fact that its servers crashed may concern its senior IT folk.
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