Smartphone Voting Manipulated in China’s Version of Idol?

October 1, 2012 7:11 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 12:12 pm
A screenshot from an iPhone posted online shows two unsuccessful votes for one of the contestants in a recent Voice of China episode. A vote was then successful for a singer with commercial ties to the sponsor, who performed a patriotic song. (Weibo.com)

Chinese Internet users are crying foul about a recent result on Voice of China, a reality television program styled after shows like American Idol, where the audience votes with their cell phones. They say the results were manipulated, with the son of a wealthy shareholder that sponsors the company, and who sung a patriotic song, being favored over other contestants. 

iPhone screenshots showing audience member unsuccessfully voting for one of the participants, Jin Zhiwen, went viral on Sina Weibo and were reported in the Chinese press on Oct. 1, the night after the program.

The winner on the night was Liang Bo, who sung the nationalist ballad, “I love you China.” It was the eve of the Communist Party’s official declaration of the People’s Republic of China, called “National Day” now in the P.R.C.

Netizens have been closely following the Voice of China fracas, with it trending alongside anti-Japan protests and the news of Bo Xila’s political destruction. Over 48 million posts appeared in search results on Oct. 1.

Netizens were not much in the mood for patriotic celebration following the announcement of Liang Bo as winner, though.

Wang Ruoxin, a Weibo user and actress who was an audience member on the night, forwarded an iPhone screenshot from another user who found that she could not vote for Jin Zhiwen, another of the candidates. The screenshot put online, that later went viral, showed two failed attempts to vote for Jin, and then a successful vote for Liang Bo. 

“This is nakedly about guanxi, acting, and Internet censorship! Clap clap!” the actress Wang wrote, while forwarding the picture. The term “guanxi” in Chinese refers to connections and cronyism used to advance personal interests.  

The show premiered on Zhejiang Television in July, and is sponsored by Jiaduobao, a brand of iced tea. Internet users claimed that Liang is the son of a major shareholder of Jiaduobao, a sponsor of the show. A weibo account run by Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based broadcaster, described Liang as “Mr. Jiaduobao,” a reference to the relationship.  

“This is why his winning is considered to be combination of politics and technique,” they wrote.

Writer and social affairs commentator Hu Yeqiu connected it to the corruption of Chinese society in general, writing “Voice of China is like the Chinese stock market: it starts high and ends low; it’s like Chinese society: chaotic and messy; it’s like the economy: vague numbers; it’s like politics: picking people based on their background.” 

In a poll for rating the contestants on Sina Weibo, Liang Bo scored ninth place, getting 9,096 out of the roughly 107,000 votes, or just 8.4 percent.

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