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People's Daily Online>>China Society

'Zombies' and 'phantom' fans haunt online statistics

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

08:47, November 22, 2011

Credible figures hard to verify amid hordes of fake followers, Zhang Yuchen reports in Beijing.

With 1,500 fans on her micro blog, Wang Xiaohui feels like a celebrity as she posts photos and records her life, 140 characters at a time. Who cares if her fans are "zombies"?

"More fans following me makes me look popular," said Wang, 22, an office worker in Shanghai. "I don't care whether they are active or not."

"Zombies" are artificial followers that can be bought and sold online for as little as 4 yuan (63 cents) a thousand. They never interact with the people they follow, but they serve the vanity of micro-bloggers like Wang, inflate the accounts of businesses that rely on marketing through social media, and can jeopardize a company's reputation.

They're akin to so-called trolls or the Water Army, hordes of real people who are paid to post comments online to influence public opinion. And both types of illegitimate participants are specialized variations of spam on weibo, the micro-blog site.

Cao Guowei is CEO of Sina Corp, the leading provider of micro-blogging service in China. In a conference call with his staff on Nov 9, he reported that Sina's weibo subscribers had hit 250 million, and that they tweeted more than 75 million messages a day.

"The content of messages spreading on micro blogs relies heavily on the fans' interconnection," said Liu Ruisheng, associate research fellow at the Journalism and Communication Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "The larger the number of fans there is, the more efficiently the messages spread."

But are those real fans? If not, are the messages really spreading?

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