Tokyo Olympics Misinformation Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media Amid Rise in ‘Attention Economy’

With the Olympic flame slowly flickering and the phrase ‘arigato’ displayed on the LED screens of Japan’s National Stadium on Sunday night, the curtain has officially fallen on one of the most unusual Games in history. After rushing down a rocky path filled with controversy and an unprecedented one-year postponement, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics had a special mission to become, as the Chairman of the Committee said international Olympic Thomas Bach, “the light at the end of this dark tunnel. the whole world is going through.

In the shadow of the pandemic, the opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event in the world took place in a subdued and hushed way in the almost spectatorless stadium on July 23. After an austere performance given by a single dancer dressed in ghostly white makeup on a dark stage, a minute of silence was called to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to the coronavirus. With more than 1,800 drones forming a magnificent rotating globe in the sky, a group of musicians sang John Lennon’s classic “Imagine” from 1971, evoking a scene of global unity.

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However, the ceremony’s message of mourning and solidarity was not warmly received on Chinese social media. A hashtag that read ‘What is this frightening opening ceremony’ has so far been reviewed 780 million times and has inspired more than 193,000 posts on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo . Under the hashtag, some Big V’s – influential Weibo users with verified accounts – posted performance clips featuring actors dressed in skeleton-like costumes and poking fun at the “bizarre” of the show, amassing hundreds. thousands of likes and comments from internet users.

(Source: Weibo)

“If there weren’t for commentators, I would think I was watching the funeral of the Emperor of Japan,” one comment read.

“The opening ceremony showed what Japanese popular culture looks like after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the COVID-19 pandemic,” another commentator replied sarcastically.

But some discerning netizens have noticed that many of these widely circulated clips were not actually from the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. China Fact Check, a Shanghai-based fact-checking initiative launched in 2020 with the aim of tackling fake news about international affairs on Chinese social media, pointed out in an article published on July 24 that some of the viral clips came from in fact the “Wassai” Festival, an event held on July 18 as part of the official Tokyo 2020 Games cultural program. The fact-checking site said it used Google’s reverse image search tool and passed Sifting through the live streaming archives on YouTube to cross-reference these clips.

In recent years, the Chinese internet has seen an alarming increase in fake news spurred by the fierce competition from bloggers for eyeballs. For many content creators in China, blogging is a profitable business, subscribers send donations, and brands pay for approvals of their products. Dubbed “auto-media,” these social media accounts run by freelance writers represent an increasingly popular channel for receiving information for the country’s billion internet users. The combination of a quest for traffic and a lack of journalistic ethics has prompted millions of auto-media operators to use clickbaity headlines and produce content deliberately aimed at national public opinion, sometimes at the national level. detriment of accuracy.

During the Tokyo 2020 Games, the profit-driven auto-media industry generated traffic through the sophisticated manipulation of people’s emotions, exploiting the Chinese public’s complicated feelings for the host country of the Games. Olympics, which date back to the historic scars left by World War II in Japan. atrocities of the time in China. Their controversial approaches involve combining fact and fiction, presenting information out of context and turning it into sensational stories.

Celebrity gossip blogger “Huihuo”, who has over 8 million followers on Weibo, posted an article on July 27 stating that several Olympic triathletes vomited after completing the grueling men’s event that took place on the 26th. July. excessive levels of Escherichia coli in the water, ”the blogger said, attaching screenshots of athletes swimming in Tokyo Bay and news articles regarding the quality of the sea water.

(Source: Weibo)

According to reports from The Independent and South China Morning Post, many runners, including Kristian Blummenfelt, who won gold in the event, vomited after completing the three-part event which included a swim of 1.5 kilometer, a 40-kilometer cycle and a 10-kilometer run. But there was no evidence that the Tokyo Bay water caused the vomiting. Chinese triathlete Zhong Mengying, who competed in the women’s Olympic triathlon on July 27, said in a Weibo post that she did not notice any foul odors while swimming in the bay, adding that organizers analyzed samples of water to make sure they respected safety. standards before the event. “I think the heat, humidity and high intensity of the game helped make male athletes vomit,” Zhong’s statement read.

However, blogger Huihuo’s post has already sparked outrage among Chinese netizens, with more than 600,000 Weibo users approving and 16,100 leaving a comment.

“These are the worst Olympics ever,” said a Weibo user.

“It suddenly occurred to me that the Japanese government had just approved the discharge of a million tonnes of wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea …” another commentator joked.

The lure of internet traffic is so overwhelming that some bloggers have started to spread rumors about Japanese athletes, leading to massive online abuse against these Olympians.

For the first time since 2004, a country other than China won gold in an Olympic table tennis event. On July 26, the Japanese duo of Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito beat the Chinese duo Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen 4-3 in the mixed doubles final.

(Source: Xinhua)

After the event, the hashtag “Mima Ito’s Mother’s Parenting Styles” was created and became a trend on Weibo. Several Big V bloggers posted a video clip of Ito’s mother telling Japanese media that she had whispered in Ito’s ear since she was a little child, “only you can beat China.”

“It’s a replica of Japanese militarism. Ito’s mother is brainwashing him and instilling nationalistic enmity towards China, ”one Weibo user commented.

“Mima Ito is consumed with hatred while playing ping-pong,” said another netizen.

Meanwhile, Chinese Central Television published an article regarding Ito’s friendship with Chinese table tennis player Sun Yingsha, reporting that Ito previously shared the rice balls his mother made with others. Chinese athletes in a bid to combat the incomplete and binary narrative built by the online auto-media industry. However, a hate speech storm has already swept through the Japanese athlete’s Instagram account, with vulgar curses such as “dogfucker” and “little Japan” flooding the comments section under the 20’s table tennis player selfies. years.

Ito’s partner Jun Mizutani also became a target of cyberbullying after winning the gold medal. In a now deleted tweet, Mizutani wrote that he had received numerous direct messages on Twitter telling him to “drop dead”, Reuters reported.

On Weibo, many netizens accused Mizutani of breaking the rules by breathing on the ball during the game. The hashtag “Jun Mizutani blew on the ball” has been viewed over 850 million times, with some users claiming Japanese players shouldn’t have won. According to the BBC, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has advised athletes not to ‘wipe their hands on the table’ and to ‘breathe on the ball for grip’ due to the risks of COVID -19. The ITTF told the BBC that Mizutani’s breath did not violate Covid guidelines because his mouth was not close enough to the ball.

The 32-year-old paddler posted on July 31 a video a long, abusive direct message sent to him from an anonymous Twitter account. “I will contact all parties concerned to take the necessary measures,” Mizutani said. “If I leave all the online abuse I receive as is, the target will be shifted to other athletes, so I think I have to deal with it properly now.”

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