Illegal support: idol fan sentenced to five years in prison for app that artificially inflates popularity of social media posts
Published: May 27, 2021 07:00 PM
fans Photo:VCG

fans Photo:VCG

An idol fan's self-developed app that allowed users to batch forward and artificially promote posts on Sina Weibo was found guilty of criminal charges by the Fengtai District Procuratorate in Beijing. The case exposed the phenomenon in China known as lunbo, a method to "hype posts" in which fans take turns mass forwarding posts on Sina Weibo to increase the popularity of their favorite stars. 

The fan, known as Cai, starting to design the app "Xingyuan" around 2015. It allows people to mass like posts on Sina Weibo without having to log into the site. It was designed to allow individuals or fan groups to manipulate the numbers on a star's post so they can gain more attention on social media platforms. It was described by the designer as a more "effective" way to support stars because there are limits on how many times an individual account on Sina Weibo can forward a post, but through the app, this can be done without limit.

"There are two types of lunbo: hot and cold. The 'hot' type means you use your Sina Weibo account to post once and then use a side account to repost that post. The 'cold' type means you only use side accounts to post and repost continually," Fang, a 20-year-old fan, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The lunbo phenomenon became a hot topic of discussion among netizens after Cai's case began trending on platforms such as Douban and Sina Weibo. Some fans said that the trend can no longer be considered a secret in the fan culture industry. 

"There are some other apps like this and they are commonly used by us. The routines are similar, you go on the app to top up and then bind the idol and also your account, and put them in different groups… there are also some guides on how to do this in Douban groups," Tian, a 23-year-old fan of a popular Chinese boy group, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Some netizens called for strict regulations to be introduced as faking data in this way can not only provoke malicious competitions between fan groups, but also harm the credibility of social media platforms. 

Cai's case marks the first time that this issue has gone to criminal trial in the Chinese mainland. The app designer was found guilty of intruding on a computer information system and sentenced to five years in prison and the return of the illegal income, more than 6 million yuan ($940,000), he earned from the app.