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Alipay Says Sorry After App Turns Into ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Platform

Online payment app Alipay triggered controversy in China this week when it launched a new group chat feature that soon turned into a soft porn place. CEO Peng Lei now apologizes

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Online payment app Alipay triggered controversy in China this week when it launched a new group chat feature that soon turned into a ‘soft porn’ place. CEO Peng Lei now apologizes and says the past 48 hours have been “the most difficult two days” of her Alipay career.

It was not long after Alipay (also referred to as ‘China’s Paypal’) launched its new group chat feature “Circles” on November 27 that the function sparked huge controversy on Chinese social media.

Although the “Circles” function was initially intended to make the Alipay app a more versatile platform, it was soon flooded with sexy pictures by female users.

 

Some app groups soon turned into a platform where hundreds of women posted sexy pictures tempting men to spend some digital money.

 

The Alipay app, that is owned by Ant Financial Services (蚂蚁金服), previously already allowed users to interact with each other; besides just sending payments, users could also send each other texts, pictures, voice messages, short videos or their location.

Various features within the Alipay app (What's on Weibo).

Various features within the Alipay app (What’s on Weibo).

The new social feature “Circles” (生活圈) now also makes it possible for users to interact in categorical groups. But here’s the catch: some of these groups only allow specific users (like ‘female college students’) to post, and only allows people with a high credit score to comment.

By limiting the chat groups to allowing users of a certain sex (female) to post, while only allowing other users above a certain credit score to comment/interact, Alipay’s new feature became an overnight success, but perhaps not in the way it hoped to be.

Some app groups, such as the one named ‘Campus Diary’ (校园日记), soon turned into a platform where hundreds of women posted sexy pictures to tempt men or other users with a high credit score to spend some of their digital money.

The incident led to outrage on Sina Weibo, which was especially caused by Chinese businessman Wang Sicong (王思聪).

 

“O2O prostitution is f*cking amazing!”

 

On November 27, Wang Sicong, who has over 21.4 million followers on Weibo, posted: ““O2O [online to offline] prostitution is f-cking amazing.” He also made a word joke with an Alipay logo saying: “Pay the pimp” (translation by Quartz/Huang).

Weibo post by Wang Sicong of November 27.

Weibo post by Wang Sicong of November 27.

Wang’s post was the beginning of a social media storm, where many netizens were upset that the finance app had turned into a raunchy place: “Our internet is controlled by scum!”, one person said.

Others were also upset that they were not allowed to join social groups because of their sex (“Only women are allowed to post in this group”) or because their credit score was too low: “Alipay won’t let me post! What is this supposed to mean?”

 

“How could Alipay have been so stupid?”

 

On November 29, Chinese media reported that Ant Financial’s director Peng Lei (彭蕾) apologized for the controversy caused by Alipay’s new feature and that the most controversial groups had immediately been removed from Circles.

In a public statement, Peng admitted that Alipay had made a “mistake”, and said that the past two days had been the “most difficult” in the 7-year-long work for Alipay.

In the evening of November 29 (Beijing time), many Weibo users reported that the ‘Circles’ function had been entirely closed down.

appdown

“How could Alipay have been so stupid?”, many netizens wonder.

“Some friends of my added many new Alipay friends over the past two days to heighten their credit score so that they could comment on college girls,” one Weibo user said.

The height of one’s Alipay credit score, named Sesame Credit Score (芝麻信用分), is based on various factors, such as one’s financial standing, purchases, address, number of friends, etc. The ‘Campus Diary’ group only allowed users with a credit score over 750 points to join, which apparently made some users frantically look for new friends to heighten their score.

Inviting friends to Alipay will heighten your credit score.

Inviting friends to Alipay will heighten your credit score.

“This shows that there are many prostitutes among college students,” one Weibo commenter said: “You should track down those who exposed themselves.”

There are also some who don’t see what all the fuss is about: “They [Alipay] are just creating new business opportunities for college students!”

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

China’s Livestreaming Queen Viya Goes Viral for Fraud and Fines, Ordered to Pay $210 Million

Viya, the Queen of Taobao, is under fire for tax evasion.

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Viya, one of China’s most well-known and successful live streamers, is trending today for allegedly committing tax fraud by deliberately providing false information and concealing personal income.

The ‘Taobao queen’ Viya (薇娅, real name Huang Wei 黄薇) reportedly committed tax fraud from 2019 to 2020, during which she evaded some 643 million yuan ($100 million) in taxes and also failed to pay an additional 60 million yuan ($9.4 million) in taxes.

The Hangzhou Tax Administration Office reportedly ordered Viya to pay an amount of over 1.3 billion yuan ($210 million) in taxes, late payment fees, and other fines. On Monday, a hashtag related to the issue had garnered over 600 million views on Weibo (#薇娅偷逃税被追缴并处罚款13.41亿元#).

Viya made headlines in English-language media earlier this year when she participated in a promotional event for Single’s Day on October 20th and managed to sell 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in merchandise in just one live streaming session together with e-commerce superstar Lipstick King.

China has a booming livestreaming e-commerce market, and Viya is one of the top influencers to have joined the thriving online sales industry years ago. When the e-commerce platform Taobao started their Taobao Live initiative (mixing online sales with livestreams), Viya became one of their top sellers as millions of viewers starting joining her channel every single day (she livestreams daily at 7.30 pm).

With news about Viya’s tax fraud practices and enormous fines going viral on Chinese social media, many are attacking the top influencer, as her tax fraud case seems to be even bigger than that of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (范冰冰).

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing went “missing” for months back in 2018 when she was at the center of a tax evasion scandal. The actress was ordered to pay taxes and fines worth hundreds of millions of yuan over tax evasion. The famous actress eventually paid approximately $128,5 million in taxes and fines, less than Viya was ordered to pay this month.

Like Fan Bingbing, Viya will also not be held criminally liable if the total amount is paid in time. This was the first time for the e-commerce star to be “administratively punished” for tax evasion.

Around 5pm on Monday, Viya posted a public apology on her Weibo account, saying she takes on full responsibility for the errors she made: “I was wrong, and I will bear all the consequences for my mistakes. I’m so sorry!”

It is not clear if she will still do her daily live stream later today and how this news will impact Viya’s future career.

Update: Vaya’s live stream was canceled.

Update 2: Vaya’s husband also issued an apology on Weibo.

Update 3: Taobao has suspended or ‘frozen’ (“冻结”) Vaya’s livestreaming channel. Her Taobao store is still online.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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