And Finally

Very fake news

How to provoke social media ridicule for $10,000


Gutter oil: not a brand enhancer

Ziguangge long enjoyed a sacred status within the Forbidden City as the place that displayed the portraits of Emperor Qianlong’s worthiest 280 generals. Meaning ‘pavilion of purple light’, it is now the room of choice for Beijing leaders to meet foreign guests.

Ziguangge is also the name of a Party-run magazine. The publication doesn’t have a huge readership – but its subscribers tend to be powerful officials. Nevertheless, in a move that few would have predicted it has just become one of the most discussed topics on social media. The reason: some young hip hop fans took umbrage at some of its comments and decided to get their revenge online.

The row started last week when Ziguangge joined the onslaught of state-run media in criticising popular rapper PG One (see WiC393). The rapper’s alleged affair with a married actress and the subsequent criticism of his lyrics and lifestyle rapidly led to his career being derailed. But PG One’s fans were not happy about the attacks, particularly those coming from Ziguangge’s editorial team and began belittling the monthly magazine.

“Ziguangge sounds like a chain restaurant in my hometown. I don’t understand why a food stall would also lash out [at PG One],” wrote one netizen on the rapper’s fan group.

Some decided to escalate things further by fabricating a fake news item that accused the mag of food safety violations involving “gutter oil” (see WiC123 for more on this dirty oil). According to the Global Times the hashtag “ZiguanggeGutterOil” garnered over 200 million page views on Sina Weibo within days. For some it was simply hilarious that a high-brow Party magazine had become a source of ridicule; for others there was a fascination with the rapidity with which the internet had achieved the takedown.

But the Global Times said the incident also cast light on an underhand practice that helps topics get traction on social media. It referred to shadowy agents who – for a fee – will drive memes up the rankings using either paid teams of netizens (so called ’50-centers’) or AI-powered bots. In this case, the newspaper claimed, an agent had charged $10,000 to turn the hashtag “ZiguanggeGutterOil” into a top search keyword on Sina Weibo, and thus drive up its visibility online.

“The higher one pays, the more likely his topic will appear on the trending list,” the Global Times said. “In this way, public opinion is manipulated and even kidnapped by those who pay social media platforms for selfish gains.”

It said such practices had become common as Chinese firms either used such agents to promote their products or slander their competitors using social media platforms.

Meanwhile, internet users continue to poke fun at Ziguangge. “When are you going to open a restaurant, surely I will visit if you do,” one wrote on the magazine’s weibo. Perhaps predictably the magazine did not see the funny side, insisting that this particular ‘internet event’ offered further proof of the shallowness of PG One’s fans.

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