Chinese zombie Yalies? A recent report delved into the Chinese Sina Weibo account of Yale University, finding that the school likely has a huge amount of “zombie” followers.
Yale University has become suddenly popular among Chinese social media users on Sina Weibo, but the school’s popularity might be due to a large number of “zombie” followers.
Yale set up an account on Weibo, a Chinese language social media site similar to Twitter, late last year and has already attracted more than 140,000 followers. This figure greatly outnumbers other U.S. schools, which generally have several thousand followers.
The Associated Press reported that the school has likely drew an exceptionally large number of “zombie” accounts, which are mass-produced and automatically follow to boost another account’s numbers to gain prestige. These zombie accounts rarely post themselves and generally don’t have any followers or very few.
Michael Morand, spokesman with Yale, said that the accounts might indee be fake, but he stressed that Yale was not responsible.
“We don’t do it, we don’t promote it, we don’t encourage it, we don’t like it,” he told AP. He added, “Not to be cheeky about it, but it’s sort of like ‘Newsflash: Spam is inherent on the Internet.’”
Zinch, the marketing company that works with Yale to run its feed on Weibo, also said it did not purchase followers.
Jason Lane, with the State University of New York at Albany, said that Yale might lose some of its brand image in China if it is discovered that it is using zombie followers.
“Given the criticality of the Chinese market to the international dimensions of these institutions, I think it’s even more alarming that you’re releasing control of this aspect of your brand,” Lane told the news agency. “Part of oversight is knowing what they’re saying but it’s also a cultural issue of not really knowing how it’s playing.”
The zombie account problem plaguing Weibo, which has more than 500 million registered users, may go deeper than just Yale.
According to Tech in Asia, Sina said in late February that it only has around 46.3 million daily users, meaning that the other 90 percent of its accounts are inactive accounts. However, it is unclear how many are actually “zombie” accounts.
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