"Zombie fans" is the term used for fake followers that lurk on Chinese social media; such an infestation hit microblogging service Weibo and hurt the platform's credibility. But there are mindless, soulless followers haunting powerful app WeChat too, though they're not as obvious.
Tencent's WeChat is the envy of internet companies around the world for transforming a messaging app into something much more ambitious. The app has 600 million monthly active users, most of them in China, where people use it to order takeout, buy airplane tickets, book taxis and pay utility bills. After treading cautiously on advertising, WeChat opened up its newsfeeds, called "Moments," to sponsored messages this year.
Dubious automated activity on WeChat isn't new, but there seems to be more fakes for sale lately as the app evolves and grows more central to digital marketing in China.
On Alibaba's e-commerce platform Taobao, where you can buy just about anything, a search for "WeChat readership" (fake views) brings up 1,152 results. One online store sells 1,000 fake fans for $10.85. A thousand faux "likes" goes for $3. The vendor offers memberships that give discounts to people planning to buy in bulk. Tencent didn't return emails seeking comment on the phenomenon.