Social media influencer faces image crisis after being seen smoking
Published: Jan 13, 2021 11:20 PM

File photo: Xinhua

Ding Zhen, China's biggest social media influencer of 2020, is facing an image crisis after video footage showing him taking a puff of an e-cigarette went viral online in the past few days. 

Disappointed by the video, some said they would never be able to see their "innocent but wild" boy from Litang, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province the same way they used to. Some others dug up an old interview of his, where he said his family upbringing forbids him from developing bad habits like smoking, drinking and fighting.

Ding's agency issued a statement on the incident on Monday, saying that Ding was simply trying the e-cigarette out of "curiosity" rather than really smoking and it was accidentally recorded.

But the statement appeared to fuel to netizens' anger and disappointment. The agency issued an apology on Wednesday. "Although smoking is a personal choice by any adult, as a public figure, one should take his influence into consideration. We apologize on behalf of Ding Zhen," it said.

Dingzhen's "letter of apology" was one of the most searched topics on China's microblogging platform Sina Weibo as of press time, gathering some 20 million views and nearly 40,000 comments. 

Some called for the agent to protect Ding better, and urge the public to respect the fact that what Ding does in a private setting should remain private.

Smoking does not necessarily define a person, wrote one netizen. "However, what the name of Ding Zhen represents, the image of a pure, untainted youngster, will be gone forever," they wrote.

"It will hardly affect his market value in the future, and the industry will not easily give up on Ding who is still fresh and able to make quite a splash online," a social media business insider who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The insider explained that Ding's popularity was accidental rather than artificial, and the "simple" image of him was created by fans rather than his own design.

Some fans may quit liking him, but not the market, he concluded. 

Ding, a 20-something young man, made his name on the internet in November 2020, impressing the public with his good looks and innocent smile. He has been a travel and cultural ambassador for his hometown ever since.