Fake it until you make it, or not: The dangers of dishonesty online

Don't take everything you see online as gospel, whether it's the popularity of celebrities, or your ex-best friend who seems to be living the life you've always dreamed of. 
Fake it until you make it, or not: The dangers of dishonesty online
Imaginechina

Cai Xukun is in hot water after allegedly buying fake interaction on Weibo, China’s Twitter. 

We’ve known for a long time that some people like to make their lives seem, well, a tad bit better than they really are through selective posting of pictures and experiences online. Us commoners tend to get away with it without too much risk, but sugar-coating reality is a dangerous thing for celebrities.

We all have those friends whose entire lives seem to be happy families, great holidays, amazing food and endless socializing, but often things are painted that way just to give that impression. Some of the most miserable people in the world look like they live perfect lives online.

But things get a little trickier, and more dangerous, when you decide to massage the truth — or hide skeletons — if you’re well known. It’s become harder and harder to conceal reality, and exposing people as dishonest can have a terrible effect on one’s standing in society.

China has witnessed two such prominent cases lately where celebrities have tried to tiptoe on the fine line between reality and their desires, and they’ve ultimately fallen by the wayside.

Just last week, China Central Television aired an investigation into the purchasing of fake social media interaction by celebrities. Right in their crosshairs was singer Cai Xukun, a member of a hugely popular boyband whose fame has led to endless sponsorships and brand deals.

That wasn’t enough, apparently, because Cai — or his management, whichever story you subscribe to — was caught out buying fake “likes” and shares on Weibo. Alarm bells rang when 100 million people appeared to have shared his latest album. Since Weibo only has around 337 million users, that seemed highly suspect.

Unlike in the West, where government would largely stay out of such affairs, China is invested in an honest and clean Internet, and that means that the case with Cai aroused government interest. Featuring on CCTV is already synonymous with the idea that authorities have taken note.

Weibo was quick to comment after the issue was brought to light, and it first acted by limiting the number of “likes” that show up on any post to 1 million in order to stop people from being tempted to pay for fake interaction (at least above and beyond the 1 million mark). Perhaps more significantly, Weibo said it’d work with the government to make the site more transparent and described the purchase of fake social media interaction as a “crime.”

The actor who doctored his doctorate

Zhai Tianlin, a well-known Chinese actor, recently had his PhD revoked after netizens decided to look into his past, ultimately searching for and finding his graduation thesis which — after being run through a plagiarism check — turned out to be largely plagiarized.

Zhai liked to play up his level of education online, often boasting about having a doctorate. That’s when fans, and perhaps some enemies, decided to take a closer look.

With the rise in popularity of living our lives online, multitudes of information can be found using just a name. It just so happened that Zhai’s graduation thesis from his doctorate degree was located, analyzed and found to be largely plagiarized.

Zhai liked to play up his level of education online, often boasting about having a doctorate. That’s when fans, and perhaps some enemies, decided to take a closer look.

What came after that was a swift investigation, and the actor had his degree stripped away and was booted from his current post-doctoral program with prestigious Peking University.

But this is, of course, not just a Chinese phenomenon — stars in the West are known to lie online, and they get caught out, too.

Bow Wow, an American rapper, posted a picture of a private jet to his Instagram in 2017, insinuating that he was using the plane to go and take care of some business in New York. But he was quickly spotted flying commercial — oh, the horror — and had his alleged luxurious life called into question. His faux pas even became a meme, with people posting fake pics next to the “harsh” reality online under the hashtag “Bowwowchallenge.”

So, what’s the takeaway here? Basically, it’s just the old-age adage: telling the truth is always best and that’s especially the case in today’s wired world.

On top of that, don’t take everything you see and read online as gospel, whether it’s the huge popularity of celebrities, or your ex-best friend who seems to be living the life you’ve always dreamed of. It may just be an illusion.

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