September 21, 2019

Why China Silenced a Clickbait Queen in Its Battle for Information Control

Why China Silenced a Clickbait Queen in Its Battle for Information Control

Increasingly, the party is seeking to limit content that depicts life in China as a constant struggle. That seems to have driven the attacks on Ms. Ma, the clickbait queen.

Ms. Ma, 42, already had detractors who accused her of making money by manipulating people’s emotions with articles like “I Love Money, It’s True” and “Men Don’t Cheat for Sex.” She charged $113,000 to advertisers for a mention on her blog and bragged about paying her interns nearly $90,000 a year.

In January, Ms. Ma, a former journalist who started her blog in 2015, came under attack after publishing “The Death of a Top Scorer From a Poor Family,” a post about a hardworking 24-year-old man who died of cancer. The article suggested that even though the man was bright and virtuous, he was still powerless in the face of the high cost of health care.

The article was widely circulated online and prompted debate about China’s wealth gap, surging medical costs and the value of education — common complaints of China’s middle class. Soon, however, internet users pointed to factual errors and said the piece had been invented.

Ms. Ma had to apologize and promise to “communicate values with more positive energy.”

But the government did not relent. People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party, accused Ms. Ma of manipulating public opinion. Her social accounts were deleted on Feb. 21.

Ms. Ma did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Wang Yongzhi, an outspoken commentator in the eastern city of Hangzhou, said the broader problem was that China’s leaders paid little attention to social issues, leaving a void that bloggers helped fill.

Mr. Wang said he had begun blogging because it provided a “seed of journalistic freedom” in a tightly restricted society. But on Jan. 1, he said, he closed his WeChat blog because he had grown tired of the constant battle with censors.

“It is becoming unbearable,” Mr. Wang said. “The party simply can’t tolerate anyone who has a big influence on society.”

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