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How Chinese State Media’s ‘America is Bad’ Hashtags Are Backfiring on Weibo

Chinese netizens are using hashtags propagated by state media to get critical posts to the front page of Weibo.

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By Friday, April 15, a Weibo hashtag page about the U.S. being the worst country in the world when it comes to human rights (#美国就是全球最大的人权赤字国#) had received over 580 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The hashtag, initiated by Chinese media outlet CCTV, was posted in the context of a video report issued by the state broadcaster on April 14 regarding the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, which was published on April 12 (see the China section here).

CCTV argued that the U.S. report, like previous years, attacks and slanders China without properly shining a light on the human rights situation in the U.S., claiming that America is failing when it comes to respecting and protecting human rights.

The Sichuan Communist Youth League added: “In the name of ‘anti-terrorism,’ nearly a million lives were taken; in the name of ‘sanctions,’ human rights are violated. Who is actually hindering world peace?”

Why this particular hashtag attracted so much attention online was recently explained on Twitter by Wen Hao (文灏), a reporter at Voice of America. Wen Hao suggested that this hashtag, along with the phrase ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ was used by Chinese netizens to express their anger about Chinese official channels often using the United States as a bad example to distract people’s attention from what is going on within mainland China.

Wen Hao reported how on April 14, in a time frame of some four to five hours, a flood of angry comments started criticizing the Chinese government for their handling of the Covid crisis and other issues under this hashtag, instead of actually attacking the U.S. according to the state media’s narrative.

Not long after, at around 4am, the only posts left using the hashtags were by verified and official accounts and the ‘Call Me by Your Name’ phrase no longer returned any results on the Weibo search function.

Chinese netizens then later jumped moved on to other hashtags, including one by state media outlet China Daily about how “Covid-19 is suspected of being related ot American bio companies” (#新冠病毒疑似与美国生物公司相关#), or one by Beijing Evening News about how “America’s murder rates are increasing at at an astonishing speed” (#美国的谋杀率正以惊人速度增长#).

Recently, Chinese state media also initiated another hashtag stating that an American company has created Covid19, which led to many netizens blaming Chinese official media for publishing misinformation (read more here).

Now, in the light of building frustrations and disbelief on how Shanghai has handled the Covid-19 outbreak, these state media-intiated hashtags are used to expose incidents in Shanghai and make critical views on China pop up on Weibo without immediately being censored.

Although the April 14 China Daily post about American companies being suspected of creating Covid-19 received over 20,000 replies, only a few comments were visible to Weibo users at the time of writing, but discussions continued in other threads and posts.

“Oh how scary America is,” some wrote, posting humorous memes.

“Are we doing another ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Campaign tonight?

The anti-American rhetoric propagated by Chinese media in hashtags – which make it to Weibo’s top trending lists – has kept attracting news posts voicing discontent on Chinese policies, with Weibo users mostly using sarcasm.

“The man-made virus is so scary, the America is responsible for everything,” one netizen wrote, posting various photos showing a community protest in Shanghai (read about that incident here)

“How horrible! We should let Ailing Gu come back before they use her for one of their experiments,” another netizen joked about the US-born Chinese Olympic star.

“Are we still doing another ‘Call Me By Your Name campaign’ tonight?” one Weibo commenter wondered in the early hours of April 16, referring to using state media hashtags calling out US to call out on China.

Call Me By Your Name (请以你的名字呼唤我) is, not coincidentally, also the title of an Oscar-winning movie featuring a homosexual relationship. In 2018, it was removed from the official program of the Beijing Film Festival after it did not get the approval from the censorship board. Despite the censorship, or perhaps also because of it, Call Me By Your Name reached somewhat of a cult classic status among some Chinese fan groups.

As explained by Wen Hao in this Voice of America article, the phrase has now become a catchphrase to voice dissent with how Chinese officials are often using ‘America is bad’ stories and hashtags to divert attention from things that are going on within their own country.

By now, hashtags such as #CallMeByYourName or #ChineseVersionCallMeByYourName (#中国版 Call Me By Your Name#) have all been removed from Weibo’s search results.

Discussions about La La Land (爱乐之城) were also censored on April 16 in light of the title being used to discuss sensitive topics.

Although many people say they appreciate the ‘Call Me By Your Name’ campaign, there are also some fans of the actual movies who aren’t happy about it: “Now we can’t even use these terms to discuss the actual films anymore!”

Chinese fans of the American movie Don’t Look Up (不要抬头) might be the next to find themselves unable to use the hashtag anymore, as some netizens are suggesting that will be the next title used for more discussions – until the next suitable state media hashtag comes along.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Frank Willems

    April 19, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    Is Voice of America, an American propaganda medium a reliable source of information???

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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