Is Getting WeChat Subscriptions Really Worth All The Bullshit?

WeChat has become very popular in China in recent years mainly due to its convenience. In the beginning, WeChat was simply a mobile version of the most popular instant messenger QQ in China. Since its inaugural, WeChat has added more functions, such as Moments, voice messaging, short video, users nearby, online payment and subscription. Subscription provides a platform with which individuals or companies can create subscription accounts to post articles directly to users who subscribe to them. Moreover, followers are free to repost these articles to their friends, chat groups or Moments. Increasing views from advertising have the potential of creating huge profits for many firms in China. The outcome of this networking is predictable, that in order to get more clicks and views, subscription accounts learn to use “bullshit”.

In his article on Quartz Nathaniel Barr uses “bullshit” to describe a large portion of what we read online today. He mentions two kinds of bullshit. The first kind is the misleading claims that are “valued for their persuasiveness in making a point, rather than for their connection to reality”. The second kind is “motivated by the commercial mandates of the digital age, in which companies endlessly chase more page views, likes, followers, subscribers and customers.” The subscription accounts on WeChat mainly use the second kind, but occasionally, the first kind is also used and works in a similar manner.

What I found intriguing was that many young WeChat users usually complain about the phenomenon that their elders frequently repost some articles on WeChat that can be considered as bullshit. I categorize these articles as follows:

  1. Articles with pornographic covers and titles. This is unusual as pornography is banned in China and people are aware that sexual content will be restricted. The only motivation for clicking this kind of articles is curiosity. For example, Upon clicking an article with title “Erotic (in Chinese, erotic and passionate share the same character) : dog and girl”, a video of a young girl who helps stray dog was found.
  2. Articles with contents full of patriotism that encourage hatred against other countries and the spirit of conceitedness. Generally the statement “if you don’t repost, you are not Chinese” can be seen at the end of such articles.
  3. Articles that exaggerate something just to scare people. Their content is usually antiscience which attracts a large group of low-educated WeChat users. In fear, people are more likely to share these types of articles with their peers and family.

These features are very typical in China. A large fraction of the older Chinese generation consists of low-educated people who are not very familiar with new media. However, not only elder WeChat users are likely to believe in bullshit, but as Nathaniel Barr argues, “people who were less analytic and intelligent were also more likely to find the bullshit statements to be profound”. Many people in China are superstitious even though it is widely believed that the country is atheist. These WeChat users are generally more easily led to believe in bullshit as Nathaniel Barr mentions that “people who are more religious believe in the paranormal and are also more accepting of alternative medicine were more receptive to this bullshit”. The other factor that leads to such receptiveness of bullshit is that we are trained to skim through articles as there is so much information presented through new media that we are not able to study at all of it in detail.

To deal with this phenomenon, Nathaniel Barr presents two general remedies, to receive more education — especially about what constitutes a good argument and evidence — and to more frequently engage in reflective critical thinking. For WeChat specifically, there is way to report such articles and many of them have been deleted by WeChat administrators. However, there is still long way to go because subscription accounts still consider posting bullshit as the easiest way to grab attention.

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