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    Her Boyfriend Killed Himself. The Internet Blamed Her.

    After a Chinese gaming influencer took his own life, his former girlfriend was subjected to a vicious online hate campaign. Now it has emerged that the influencer’s family orchestrated the doxxing.
    May 20, 2024#crime#internet

    When the gaming influencer Pangmao, or “Fat Cat,” took his own life last month, people across China quickly decided who was to blame for his tragic death: his former girlfriend.

    The woman, surnamed Tan, was portrayed as a classic gold digger. Leaked bank records appeared to show that Pangmao had transferred well over 500,000 yuan ($69,000) into her account, helping her pay for steep cell phone bills, trips abroad, and startup expenses for a new business.

    The 27-year-old quickly became an online hate figure — accused of destroying her boyfriend’s finances and then driving him to his death. Chinese anti-feminists held up the case as an example of how men face unfair pressure to financially support their partners.

    Now a police investigation has revealed that this entire narrative was false. Instead, a stranger — and, in some ways, an even darker — story has emerged.

    Tan was not financially dependent on Pangmao, whose real surname is Liu, police in the southwestern city of Chongqing announced Sunday. There is no evidence to suggest that Tan caused his death.

    The hate campaign against Tan was orchestrated by Liu’s family, who reportedly held a grudge against Tan. Liu’s sister leaked the bank records, began making accusations against Tan, and then paid social media agencies to amplify her posts using fake accounts.

    For many in China, the abrupt shift in the narrative has come as a huge shock — and a timely reminder of how easily fake news and social prejudice can manipulate public opinion.

    Genesis of a rumor

    Liu, the gaming influencer, killed himself by leaping from a bridge in Chongqing on April 11. His death quickly drew the attention of video game fans across the country.

    But it was when the accusations against Tan emerged a few days later that the story blew up on social media. Liu’s sister shared screen grabs of financial transactions between Liu and Tan, showing that Liu had transferred at least 510,000 yuan into Tan’s account before his death.

    It appeared to be a classic case of “pig butchering” — a kind of scam where fraudsters develop a relationship with a victim and then manipulate them into handing over very large amounts of money.

    Pig butchering scams come in many forms, but they are often directed against men, with attractive women seducing them before convincing them to hand over money. Several such cases have gone viral in China in recent years, with one involving a woman blackmailing her ex-husband into transferring $1.45 million becoming particularly notorious.

    “It’s clear that the woman is a scammer and deliberately set traps to extort money. This is a ‘pig-butchering’ scam,” read one highly upvoted comment on the microblogging platform Weibo.

    Tan suddenly found herself a national hate figure. Hashtags related to Liu’s death racked up billions of views on Weibo. Chinese men in particular expressed fury at Tan — seeing her as reflecting the financial pressures male partners often face in relationships.

    Because Liu was said to live a frugal life — feeling that even eating at McDonald’s was an extravagance — people began delivering takeout fast food to the bridge from which he jumped as a tribute to him. Tan’s personal information — including her national ID number — was leaked online, and she received a series of death threats.

    Sudden reversal

    However, the story took a dramatic twist on Sunday, when Chongqing police published the results of their investigation.

    According to the announcement, Liu met Tan in 2021 while playing online video games and the pair quickly fell in love. But the couple’s financial relationship was not one-sided, as Liu’s sister had claimed.

    Though Liu had made hundreds of bank transfers totalling nearly 800,000 yuan into Tan’s account, Tan had also made hundreds of transfers the other way, which were worth over 450,000 yuan in total, according to the investigation.

    But Liu’s sister reportedly felt that her brother had spent too much money on Tan, and after his death she decided to get even. Chongqing police said that she hired agencies to boost her accusations against Tan, leading her follower count on Weibo to leap from 263 to 2.9 million in just one day in late April.

    Liu’s sister, along with a number of influencers, have been accused of manipulating public opinion and infringing on Tan’s privacy. Authorities say they may face administrative penalties for their actions.

    The new development in the case has triggered another social media storm in China this week.

    Maggie Luo, a 20-something from the southern Guangdong province, told Sixth Tone that she felt relieved to see Tan exonerated. The angry debate about the case, she said, at times felt like a gender war.

    “There are many posts and videos online that provoked gender antagonism and insulted the women involved, which had made me feel very uncomfortable,” said Luo.

    “It’s a contradictory feeling. On the one hand I think that these issues should be discussed, but on the other hand they dominate social discourse and cause important news to be ignored,” she added.

    Guo Mengyao, a 23-year-old from the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, told Sixth Tone he initially felt sympathy for Liu and resented Tan when the story first blew up online. Now, he admits feeling foolish for taking sides so soon.

    “I feel sorry not only for Pangmao but for Tan, as she has been attacked online for a long time. Even today, many people are still attacking her regardless,” said Guo. “It is so hard to know what’s true in the internet age … It’s hard for people to figure out when to speak up and for whom.”

    (Header image: Delivery workers leave packages of takeout food as tributes to the Chinese gaming influencer Pangmao at Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge in Chongqing, southwest China, April 2024. Pangmao jumped to his death from the bridge last month. From Douyin)