Mr Zhikui Ye, an independent Chinese Internet analyst recently published an article in Chinese that’s caused quite a stir in Chinese social media circles. The article puts into question the concept and degradation of Social Networks in China and why the very concept is getting more questionable.

Here is short translated summary of what the article is about as explained to me.

Yesterday,  an article from the mobile app version of Sohu IT about  how “social zhuangbility “ is poisoning Chinese social media triggered an unusual war of words on Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter).

Sohu IT’s article points out that, “when target audience can be clearly identified, we tend to publish information with sincerity; whereas when presented with an obscure audience, we tend to act out the information with exaggeration and deception to build up a “better” image for our own benefits.

What’s more, on Sina Weibo, Chinese public intellectuals’ posts are more about “Social Zhuangbility” as opposed to truth delivery.  In turn, it is moods rather than truths that are consumed Weibo, and Wechat could be up next.

Up until now, Sohu’s article has been forwarded (retweeted) more than 20,000 times on Sina Weibo, including by the official Weibo account of CCTV.

What I interpret the article is saying is that Weibo is becoming less of a social network or micro blog and evolving more into another media publishing platform by a very few broadcasting to the masses. Weibo’s future seems to be less “social” and more “network” as advertising and sponsorships becomes more important to the bottom line of the service.

As certain celebrity or power bloggers amass thousands if not millions of followers, the original concept of giving voice to the common person becomes more distant. Weibo has become a winner take all type of game for the many users who post on the service. As more users become more passive, viewers rather than active participants, the very nature of the information found on Weibo also changes.

The article talks about “social zhuangbility” as the dominant style that we find on Weibo among the celebrity bloggers. The discussion has moved from a chat among
equals to a lecture by a guru to their army of followers. Because of this imbalance, the bloggers have developed a certain “zhuangbility” in their writing and interaction style. Although the translator referred to it as “hypocrisy”, a better term may be “fakeness” or “public mask” which like other broadcast media on television or the movies, we see that bloggers developing their own weibo persona while carefully guarding their real personality and thoughts from view. Knowing that they have audiences that they must appease or entertain, they have a responsibility to provide the content that their followers may want as opposed to the content they really want to express.

The author of the article seems to infer that Chinese followers will always tend to gravitate towards these official or celebrity bloggers because of the nature of Chinese culture. There are many who just want to follow and there are those who are creating through their social media profiles some sort of micro-brand of personality. Each celebrity blogger and official account counts each additional follower as a success metric and potential monetization value. We are seeing this not just in China but all over the world in Social Media as the early internet celebrities get bigger and bigger making new entrants and semi-active users less noticed and disenfranchised to some extant. In China, this divide between the celebrities and the common user seems to be growing larger and faster than in other countries.

The author also stats that this problem is not limited to Weibo but to all potential social networks in China such as Tencent’s WeChat. At this point, I tend to disagree just by the nature of the platforms involved.. WeChat is not a micro-blogging platform but more of a communication channel for small groups…for now. However, with changes to official accounts and sponsored accounts, WeChat has the potential to fall into the same trap that we are seeing in Weibo.

The social zhuangbility will eventually invade and poison all social mediums according to the author which I tend to disagree with. Why? Because this discussion came about on Weibo first which means that social networks will always have a way to provide a service for discussion (that is not senstitive of course). So as bad as SNS become filled with celebrities, there is still ac chance, although slimmer, to become one yourself.

The danger to social networks is not people being fake, it’s the existence of fake people or bots. Yes, the numbers on SNS services are inflated. Many followers are really spambots and even worse, many of the celebrity blogger’s followers were purchased in mass from a service selling followers.

Hopefully as Weibo and the social networks continue to mature, so will the users and followers on the service who can develop a better sense on who to follow and who not to follow rather than blindly following offline celebrities or bloggers who deliberately “fish’ for followers with statements designed to please. As the users also learn and mature, hopefully they will have something interesting to say that would allow people to follow them organically as well.