Counting Stars: How Fake Data Distorts the Celebrity Landscape

Young Chinese are overestimating the importance of social media traffic to stardom — and underestimating talent.

The anonymous netizen who questioned 40-year-old Taiwanese singer Jay Chou’s continued popularity in a now-deleted social media post last month probably didn’t mean to set off an intergenerational flame war. But as with most things on the internet, matters quickly spun out of control.

According to reports, the kerfuffle began when a user on social media platform Douban questioned both the enthusiasm and the very existence of Chou’s followers on Twitter-like Weibo. In response, slighted fans of the singer, who was once — and apparently still is — one of the biggest names in the Chinese-language music industry, orchestrated a movement to propel Chou to the top of Weibo’s “super topics” community page. When Chou’s supporters finally toppled the reigning 21-year-old “little fresh meat” singer Cai Xukun from his perch, it was hailed as a rare victory for the country’s millennials over the more plugged-in Generation Z.

But to be honest, while it’s nice as a millennial to see Chou’s popularity validated, I’m more interested in what the controversy says about the always-online social media bubble so many young Chinese seem to live in these days. Chou isn’t the only middle-aged star to be prematurely dismissed. When “Wolf Warrior 2” smashed box office records two years ago, some young netizens expressed amazement that an actor with a social media presence as moribund as Wu Jing’s could headline China’s highest grossing movie of all time. Why do so many members of Generation Z mistake social media rankings and trending topics for real-life popularity? Continue reading here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.