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Who Are the 5.5 Million Facebook Fans of Chinese State Newspaper People's Daily?

Facebook is banned in China, but Chinese media outlet, the People's Daily have 5.5 million fans there. Remixed image.

Facebook is banned in China, but Chinese media outlet People's Daily has 5.5 million fans on the social media platform. Remixed image.

“People's Daily has the second largest number of Facebook likes among global media outlets,” boasted Lu Xinning, the deputy editor-in-chief of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, during the recent China-Russia Media Forum.

Though Facebook, along with a number of popular social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, is blocked in China, the newspaper currently has 5.5 million likes on Facebook, a few million behind The New York Times but more than the Washington Post by 2.2 million. Lu Xinning cited the number of Facebook likes as an evidence of People's Daily's successful integration of conventional media and new media and of its global reach.

The newspaper's page, which has been active on Facebook since mid-2011, mainly promotes its English-language stories. Recent stories — on topics such as erosion of the Great Wall of China, a budding architect's beer-bottle house, or a Chinese government report on the “terrible” human rights situation in the United States — have received hundreds, if not thousands of likes and a good number of comments and shares.

In April 2013, the page only had 1,000 likes, but by July 2014 it was celebrating 1 million. Since Lu's comment, the page has received a spate of negative reviews from people questioning the current high count.

Many Chinese netizens who cannot access Facebook were left scratching their heads over who the millions of fans are. Some wondered if a portion were simply robots or zombies (accounts that remain open, but the user no longer actively maintains), common on Chinese social media platforms.

Commenting on popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, “Alexander the super wanderer” asked People's Daily to educate people on how to access Facebook:

请《人民日报》告诉大家怎样才能关注你脸书,我们一定要把《纽约时报》这个敌对势力报纸比下去。

Can the People's Daily tell us how to follow you on Facebook? We have to outnumber our enemy paper, The New York Times.

Art curator Yong Jian claimed that he had no idea what Facebook is:

现在才知道有个脸书,这是人民日报告诉我的,该报宣布,它在脸书的粉丝已有四百多万了。我是不知道这个脸书是本什么书,也不知道怎么看这本书,既然人日在那里拥有这么多粉丝,影响一定很大。

Only now do I learn something called Facebook exists. The People's Daily told me by saying that it has 4 million plus fans there. I have no idea what kind of book this Facebook is and I don't know how to read this book. If the People's Daily has so many followers there, its must have great impact.

Many netizens also noted that the number of “likes” cannot reflect the impact of a Facebook page. It is the engagement level that matters. Reuuter compared engagement levels between People's Daily and Japanese nude model Sola Aoi on Weibo:

人民日报走向世界了,在脸书上的粉丝数量达全球第二!真是给国家长脸了!可是它在国内的影响力似乎还不如@苍井空。虽然人民日报有3614万粉丝,阿空的粉丝数量不到它的一半,只有1587万,但是,阿空每条微博的转发评论点赞数量都是人民日报的十倍以上。

The People's Daily goes global and now becomes the second largest in the world in terms of Facebook followers. It certainly lights up the country's face. But its impact is not as big as Sola Aoi. While the People's Daily has 36.14 million fans and Sola Aoi only has 15.87 million, the number of shares and likes in each of her messages is 10 times more than the People's Daily.

Though many tossed about suspicions that People's Daily bought Facebook likes from a social media marketing agency, “Thousands of Stars” believed the phenomena has to do with the “abstract” patriotism of Chinese who live overseas:

其实在美国的中国人才是真爱国,他们爱的是抽象的祖国,是印象中的山水田园、乡音亲情。这种爱国其实是怀念。因为他们不知道田园荒芜,山河污染;他们体会不了官僚跋扈、体制丑恶、赋税沉重、生活艰辛。那些在人民日报脸书下点赞的海外华人,大抵如此。

Actually, the Chinese living in the US are the genuine patriots. They love their homeland in abstract, with a vague impression of the country's landscape and folk culture. Patriotism like this is a form of nostalgia. They have no idea that the rice fields have been abandoned, rivers have been polluted. They have no experience with bureaucratic power, ugly systems, heavy taxation and difficult living. Those overseas Chinese who like People's Daily are most likely these kinds of people.

1 comment

  • Stuart M.

    I am constantly amazed at Western Internet giants like Google and Facebook that are banned in China but still allow Chinese government mouthpieces unfettered access to their free websites. Google News often features Xinhua articles as if they were serious journalism, not the baldfaced propaganda they really are. If Facebook is banned in China, I really think Facebook should return the favor and cancel any accounts with identifiable Chinese government links. Tit for tat is only fair.

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