Imagine a state-run magazine’s bewilderment at being misidentified as a shabby restaurant and smeared by an army of online trolls.
The drama started last week, when Zi Guang Ge — or “Purple Pavilion” — accused embattled rapper PG One of condoning misogyny and drug use in his lyrics. “You might be in big trouble this time!” read the magazine’s post, which added that lyrics about “pure white powder” instill the wrong values in young listeners.
The magazine’s morality campaign ruffled feathers among the rapper’s fans, who were quick to jump to their idol’s defense. On microblog platform Weibo, over 5 million users follow PG One — also known as Wang Hao — after he rose to fame by winning the first season of the much-maligned reality TV show “The Rap of China.”
To exact revenge and discredit the magazine, PG One’s fans enlisted the services of a click farm. However, according to state news agency Xinhua, the fans themselves — not the service provider — confused Zi Guang Ge for a restaurant rather than a magazine.
On Sunday, one of the trending topics on Weibo was the hashtag “Zi Guang Ge gutter oil” — a phrase implying that a restaurant called Zi Guang Ge cooks with oil skimmed off the surface of sewer sludge.
The magazine, meanwhile, reveled in the mix-up, joking that it was “weak, poor, and helpless” to step in and clear the air. “Delete the posts? That would only cause the incident to blow up,” it wrote in response. “Clarify our position? But you can’t talk to someone who pretends to be asleep!”
Even Weibo itself weighed in on the misdirected smear campaign. “Despite our counter-measures, it’s still hard to completely prevent malicious intervention by illicit businesses in our trending topics list,” it posted from its official account, adding that it is “embarrassingly difficult” to punish such activity under the country’s current internet laws.
A receptionist for online branding company Seomens told Sixth Tone’s reporter — who called posing as a potential customer hoping to achieve fleeting fame on Weibo — that his company was the right one for the job.
“What we recommend is for you to create good content yourself, and then we can ask influential bloggers to repost it and make sure it gets widely shared,” the employee said, adding that “water armies” — the Chinese term for click farms — are not recommended because Weibo has cracked down on such accounts by regularly deleting their posts. “That kind of hype would only exist for a short time,” he explained.
As for the fees charged for reposts from influential figures, Seomens’ representative said that rates vary depending on how many followers the account has. “For someone very influential, we could charge over 10,000 yuan [$1,500] for a single repost,” he said.
Zhao Zhanling, a lawyer at Beijing Zhilin Law Firm who specializes in information technology, told Sixth Tone that disseminating false information fits the legal definition of slander.
“Social platforms like Weibo have a responsibility to manage their content,” Zhao said. Although it is unrealistic to expect a service that handles such a vast amount of information to police all of its content, he added, fake news should not be appearing in the trending topics list — and if it is, then Weibo is at least partially to blame.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Zuo Dongchen/VCG)