2016-10-24 12:17:19

On Saturday, a video of a woman insulting a migrant worker on the subway went viral on social media, and several Weibo microblog accounts of local media re-posted the incident. The only problem? The encounter was fake.

That day, Guangdong TV had been filming an episode of a program called “What Would You Do?” on the subway in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province in eastern China. Each episode of the show features actors who are tasked with creating awkward situations in public places, while secret cameras film the reactions of the unwitting audience.

The viral video featured two actors: a male actor playing the role of a migrant worker seated on the floor of a subway car, and a female actor playing the role of a disgusted passenger who insulted him. A middle school student who had no idea the incident was fabricated intervened and offered her seat to the actor playing the migrant worker. Another passenger filmed the scene and later uploaded the video to their Weibo microblog. The user has since deleted the video.

A screenshot of a video recorded on a mobile phone shows the student (left) confronting the woman for being rude to the migrant worker. @jiangxibaike from Weibo

A screenshot of a video recorded on a mobile phone shows the student (left) confronting the woman for being rude to the migrant worker. @jiangxibaike from Weibo

The misunderstanding wasn’t discovered until Saturday night, when the official Weibo account of “What Would You Do?” had posted a statement clarifying that the incident was created for the purposes of the program. The show stated that the mistake was made because “there were many people on the subway, and because we neglected to explain the situation to anyone.”

Li Gang, one of the show’s producers, told Sixth Tone in a telephone interview that the crew normally explains the situation to those who have been secretly filmed, and asks for their permission to be broadcast on the show. But circumstances on Saturday, he said, were more difficult than usual: “There was a huge number of people on the subway, and we weren’t able to contact the passenger who filmed the incident before they got off the train.”

“What Would You Do?” aims to inspire people to be good to one another, explained Li. “The contents we show are mainly to guide people positively,” he said. But not everyone views the show that way. One Weibo user who commented under the “What Would You Do?” post wrote, “Testing people’s good will is the biggest kind of evil.”

Although the program accepted responsibility for the incident, others assigned blame to the media for forwarding the incident without first confirming that it was true. “It’s clear that the media these days don’t fact-check,” wrote one Weibo user. “So-called journalistic ethics… sigh.”

Earlier in October a video that supposedly showed female employees lining up to kiss their male boss as part of the company’s morning routine went viral on Weibo. It was later discovered that the news was fake.

On the weekend a person in Wuhan was also detained for five days as punishment for circulating a video purportedly showing Wuhan Iron and Steel employees protesting, after a local propaganda department official announced the video was fake. A report by Legal Daily said the video instead shows a local celebration that took place in Shantou, in southern Guangdong province, in 2013.

“What Would You Do?” is broadcast every Thursday night on Guangdong TV, with the show also available on video-streaming site iQIYI. Previous episodes have been based on the topics of badly behaved children, a drunk woman who was getting into dangerous situations, and a thief stealing from a car through an open window. Each episode lasts 40 minutes, with actors playing out variations of similar situations. Celebrity psychologist Lei Ming and writer Chen Lan give their opinions on the reactions of observers and passersby throughout the program.

The show is relatively popular, with some episodes reaching over 300,000 views on iQIYI. One Weibo user explained the appeal of the show in a comment under program’s Saturday statement: “I love this program. Although you see lots of bad people on it, there are always good-hearted people, too, and when they step forward, I feel as if I’ve been cured.”

Additional research by Yin Yijun.

(Header image: A migrant worker carries two bags up a flight of stairs at a subway station in Shanghai, March 3, 2013. Yang Shenlai/Sixth Tone)