Microblogging site Weibo — one of China’s most widely used social platforms — says that in order to discourage fraudulent activity, it will cap the number of shares and comments it displays at 1 million for most accounts.
According to an announcement posted Tuesday by the Weibo Administrator account, the change will address a long-standing problem of artificially generated comments and shares negatively impacting the Weibo community — and especially the relationship between the entertainment industry’s so-called traffic stars and their followers. “If the actual number of reposts or comments exceeds 1 million, that number will be displayed as ‘1 million-plus,’” said Weibo. For public posts on China’s ubiquitous social app WeChat, the maximum number of views displayed is 100,000.
The new function will be implemented in late January. Notably, it will not apply to government or media accounts, which have established “good credibility,” according to the announcement.
Weibo has been trying to crack down on fake comments, reposts, and trending topics for years — both from real users who copy and repeatedly paste comments and from clickfarm-like “water armies” of paid promoters. With the commercial value of views, likes, and shares becoming more widely recognized, some businesses and individuals have resorted to inflating their popularity through artificial means, Weibo said.
The phenomenon of artificial hype reached its apex in April 2016, when fresh-faced pop star Lu Han set a Guinness World Record for a post he had written in praise of English soccer team Manchester United receiving over 100 million comments. Many of the comments were unrelated to the post’s content and appeared to have been written solely to contribute to the sky-high figure. In August 2018, 20-year-old pop idol Cai Xukun came under fire after one of his Weibo posts garnered over 100 million shares and 2 million comments — many of which were repetitive, suggesting some chicanery was afoot.
Using still more dubious methods to create the illusion of success or stardom is not uncommon in China. In April 2017, the fantasy drama series “Eternal Love” was suspected of fraud after its official account claimed that its 58 episodes had been viewed 30 billion times in just over a month.
Social media sites like Weibo also see their share of gaffes and mix-ups. In January 2017, a state-run magazine whose name translates to Purple Pavilion accused rapper PG One of glorifying misogyny and drug use. The musician’s fans retaliated with a smear campaign but confused the magazine’s name for a restaurant — resulting in the phrase “Purple Pavilion gutter oil” becoming one of the site’s trending topics.
The same month, Beijing’s cyberspace watchdog invited Weibo “for a chat,” resulting in the site’s “most-searched” and “hot topics” lists being removed for a week. Afterward, the microblogging platform strengthened efforts to clean up its trending topics list by slapping temporary posting restrictions on accounts caught hyping up suspicious subjects.
Weibo isn’t the only online platform in China to resort to masking or manipulating user-generated data. In September 2017, video-streaming site iQiyi stopped displaying view counts on videos to discourage “improper competition.”