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    Chinese Star’s Online Health Updates Fuel a Clickbait Controversy

    Authorities have confirmed that several photos and videos that Chinese celebrity Gao Junyu shared last week, documenting her brain tumor treatment, were actually from last year.

    Days after videos and images of Chinese celebrity Gao Junyu receiving treatment for a brain tumor circulated online, cyberspace authorities in the eastern city of Hangzhou have confirmed that the content actually dates back to September 2023, reigniting widespread debates over the ethics of clickbait in China.

    Gao, 22, recently captured public attention by disclosing on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, that she has been diagnosed with a “rare brain tumor.” She first rose to fame in 2009 after appearing in a popular commercial at age 8, and has since starred in multiple films including “Bruce Lee, My Brother.”

    The minute-long video, posted on Feb. 29 to coincide with World Rare Disease Day, showed Gao in a hospital gown having her head shaved in preparation for brain surgery.

    Subsequent video and photo updates on Douyin posted over the following 10 days chronicled her treatment experiences. One video shared on March 8 reveals that Gao was transferred to the ICU after her condition rapidly worsened, marked by a persistent high fever.

    While the videos and photos initially drew a wave of support, a growing number of netizens questioned the authenticity of the visuals. Some pointed out that the summer attire of doctors and patients in the images and videos did not align with the current season, suggesting the pictures might not have been recent.

    Concerns were also raised that Gao could be using stock photos to garner attention, sparking calls for an official probe.

    In response to the rising scrutiny, Gao’s mother issued a statement Monday, in which she confirmed her daughter’s serious illness but explained the misleading photos and videos were the result of an oversight by the talent agency managing their social media accounts.

    Describing it as a “serious mistake,” Gao’s mother announced that they would halt further updates on the account.

    The following day, Hangzhou cyberspace authorities confirmed that the contentious images and videos were from September 2023, and that the talent agency, Hangzhou Huorankailang Tech Co., Ltd., had misrepresented them as recent.

    Emphasizing that “the Internet is not a lawless place,” Hangzhou authorities warned that companies or individuals causing trouble by fabricating, distorting, inventing, or exaggerating facts would be held accountable for any negative social impacts or consequences.

    The controversy spawned dozens of related hashtags on social media, with one on the microblogging platform Weibo attracting more than 430 million views. Public reaction has been mixed: While some chose to overlook the incident, focusing instead on Gao’s struggles, others expressed outrage.

    A campaigner at a nonprofit aiming to raise public awareness of primary immunodeficiency, surnamed Yin, told Sixth Tone that such misinformation steers attention away from genuine causes.

    Yin, who has also been diagnosed with PID, a rare disease in which the immune system is compromised, said that he had edited several videos for International Rare Disease Day, but that they had attracted barely any traffic on social media.

    “It turns out that the traffic was monopolized by scammers. I was still worried about her situation before having my own surgery Monday afternoon,” said Yin, who asked to be identified only by his surname for privacy reasons.

    Amid increasing calls for better oversight, China’s internet regulator launched a campaign last December against false information and inappropriate content, targeting videos that fabricate stories for sympathy among other issues. Accounts or platforms found to have violated online guidelines will face closure and penalties, with key cases being publicized as deterrents, authorities warned.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Middle: A screenshot from the commercial that launched Gao's career; left and right: Screenshots from Douyin show Gao was being treated at a hospital. From Weibo)