Entertainment, Society

Fatal attraction

How Chinese short-video platforms have become a home for scammers


The George Clooney of China? Jin Dong with his co-star Wang Ou

When the TV show The Best Partner first came out in late 2019, most of the comments online were that the legal drama bore a striking resemblance to the US hit series Suits.

“A recreation of the stage scenery of Suits? A reproduction of characters? Even the cinematography is way too alike? I actually thought Jin Dong was sitting in Harvey’s office when I first watched the show,” one netizen wrote at the time.

Last week the TV series’ lead actor Jin Dong found himself in the ‘legal’ spotlight again when an imposter was found to be making money from a female fan by impersonating Jin on Douyin (the short-video platform owned by Bytedance).

The 61 year-old, surnamed Huang, was a big admirer of the actor so when she came across an account on Douyin that used his image, she immediately clicked ‘follow’. According to family members, Huang scrolled the account day and night, watching videos that had been pasted together using the actor’s images set to sappy music. Her obsession reached such a feverish peak that she filed for separation from her husband, claiming that Jin had promised to marry her and would be buying a house for her (nothing says love like buying property in China), she explained when retelling her ‘love story’ to a local TV news network.

In turn Huang spent money in livestreaming e-commerce sales hosted by “Brother Dong” thinking she was supporting her beloved idol, even though most of the products appeared to be knock-offs. She was so convinced that she was interacting with Jin that she travelled from her hometown in Jiangxi to the northeastern province Jilin to meet him. Needless to say, “Brother Dong” never showed up.

Huang is not the only woman obsessed with Jin. The 43 year-old has attracted a legion of female fans by playing sophisticated and upright characters on TV. In addition to his role in The Best Partner, in which he plays a corporate lawyer, he also starred as a high-flying consultant in The First Half of My Life and more recently took on the role of a doctor who travels to Wuhan to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the drama Together. His squeaky-clean image also landed him a deal to endorse FAW’s Hongqi vehicles (see WiC514).

“A lot of Jin’s success stems from his roles on TV: he often plays the domineering CEO; handsome and rich but also hopelessly romantic. That sparks the imagination of a lot of women,” reckoned Entertainment Unicorn, a showbiz blog. “But because he is slightly older, he doesn’t have a strong presence on short video platforms, which leaves a lot of room for fraudsters.”

When news surfaced that his middle-aged fan had been conned by an imposter, Jin confirmed that he didn’t have a personal account on any of China’s short-video platforms and urged users to delete all content that violated his “portrait rights and brand name”. He also threatened legal action against anyone on short-video platforms that created fake accounts using his name for personal gain.

Huang’s experience has sparked heated discussion online, with related hashtags on Sina Weibo viewed over 1.6 billion times. While some users have criticised her for being gullible, others were more sympathetic.

“It’s a story of a frustrated woman fighting back against life by holding on to the last bit of romance she can grasp,” one wrote. “Instead of making fun of Huang, we ought to start looking into problems like elderly women’s mental health.”

The Global Times also chimed in: “While it is easy for young people to spot scams, it is far more difficult for older people who have just learned to surf the internet,” the newspaper opined.

Even though they are late adopters, older adults are now major consumers of short videos in China. According to data from QuestMobile, viewers over 46 accounted for 14.5% of the new users on Douyin in March. For some accounts over 30% of the followers are aged 41 or more.

Older victims of internet fraud are often well-educated, meaning some are “too confident and too stubborn” to admit that they have been scammed.

Indeed, when it was revealed that Huang had fallen for an imposter, she refused to believe that her romance wasn’t real. “Little Dong, they say you are a scammer. But I don’t believe it, I will continue to wait for you,” she pleaded to the camera. “I’ve never before [experienced love]. I don’t want to give up on this.”

“A lot of old people crave love and attention. But in the world of the internet, those who give them affection are not necessarily good people,” wrote 36Kr, a news portal.

Industry commentators now urge more regulatory oversight against fraudulent accounts on the nation’s short-video sites.

“When Brother Dong can no longer fall in love with Huang on Douyin, will he try WeChat and ask for her bank account details? Just thinking about it is worrying,” surmised Entertainment Industry, a showbiz blog.

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