The Chinese Communist Party Youth League received an unexpected backlash on Weibo last month after the launch of its anime idols. “Instead of spending time crafting idols, I’d rather see you make some real contributions to help Wuhan,” said one angry Weibo post. Other users expressed similar negative feelings in their posts, and after much online resistance, the Youth League removed its posts featuring the avatars.
But not all idols are receiving a negative reaction. Real-life KOLs and celebrities have increased their engagement and won praise for committing to fight the COVID-19 virus through new online initiatives. According to Reuter Communications, Gem (宝石) recently launched a new song to encourage citizens of Wuhan in their fight against COVID-19, and idols Li Xian (李现), Zhu Yilong (朱一龙), Chang Shilei (常石磊), and Dou Dou (豆豆) worked with New Media Center on a music video titled, “Wuhan, how are you (武汉, 你好吗)”.
Reuter Communications also mentions acclaimed KOLs who’ve assisted various efforts to help the citizens of Wuhan. For instance, Alibaba’s top livestreamer, Viya, partnered with v.people.cn on a live show (“从前有座山”) to connect with workers who are constructing the new Wuhan Leishenshan Hospital. Teacher Xu (@深夜徐老师) , who is a top Weibo influencer, also collaborated with Alibaba, taking part in a live show to help gather support for Wuhan’s medical staff, while Wang Xiaochen (王晓晨) partnered with Satine on the Weibo hashtag #手写加油助力# as a way to support outbreak victims.
With tens of millions of people across China currently locked indoors away from their friends and relatives, social isolation and loneliness are growing, and everyone wants to return to their normal routines. So any individual or organization that is helping the infected or overwhelmed medical professionals is seen in a positive light.
But, there’s also a real risk that when this tragedy passes, certain idols and KOLs will remain associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Wanting to forget painful memories is human nature, but many psychologists argue that people will sometimes even mentally block out images of those who helped the most during those hard times. Repression and thought suppression are unconscious acts, and if netizens associate KOLs with a tragedy, they might penalize them for it.
Additionally, some fame-hungry influencers have acted indecently during the COVID-19 crisis. The Independent presented the case of Instagram celebrity Logan Paul, who shared a photo of himself and some female models wearing gas masks above a vulgar caption, while the German influencer Fitness Oskar posted a snapshot of himself and his girlfriend kissing while wearing face masks. Both pictures drew criticism for being insensitive.
Wired also reported that Xiaohongshu (a.k.a. Little Red Book) is “becoming a repository of coronavirus content.” They claim that Wuhan-based netizens are documenting their lives under quarantine, posting updates, and giving practical tips on how to cope with the new routine. Additionally, certain influencers are using the COVID-19 outbreak to stimulate engagement on their pages.
“I have consulted doctors and nurses in my family, and I am going to tell you which disinfecting liquid is the best one to use,” says Korean beauty blogger Carey欧巴 in one of his videos posted on Xiaohongshu. Wired highlights how Carey’s posts were solely related to beauty routines, plastic surgery, and makeup tutorials before the COVID-19 virus struck — virus virulence not being his area of expertise.
Other influencers are offering tips on “outbreak makeup” and discussing how to apply makeup while wearing masks. Some are offering “quarantine recipe collections” or tips on how to create DIY masks.
But the sad reality is that China is desperate to understand the truth about this outbreak, so some KOLs are shaping the narrative and presenting themselves as heroes speaking out against government censorship. Unfortunately, the reality is far more complex, and a few online charlatans with questionable methods and off-putting behavior are tainting the entire influencer industry as a whole and making legitimate, compassionate efforts a tricky proposition for KOLs and celebrities.
That being said, Viya and her peers are taking calculated risks when they get involved in the fight against the coronavirus. Considering how the Chinese public is penalizing any humorous and vulgar commentary about the outbreak, showing support to Wuhan is likely less dangerous than inaction or passiveness because, in the end, detractors can read worse things in someone’s silence than in any sincere statement.