Chinese Zombie Yalies

Chinese zombies? Yale, we expected better of you. Associated Press has published a detailed report by Didi Tang and Justin Pope that takes a look at the huge following that the Ivy League University has attracted on Sina Weibo since its account debuted in December — and they concluded that the chances are high that somebody’s cheating.

Sina Weibo, according to Afsanieh Rassti for Movements.org, is a site developed in China in 2009 after Twitter was banned from the country. It is conceived as a blend between Twitter and Facebook, and Rassti said that it has more than 200 million users.

Despite the huge potential for growth in populous China, the fact remains that most foreign universities have taken over a year to accrue a few thousand followers. Yet Yale has already drawn 140,000 — including “a mysteriously large battalion of walking dead accounts, with pages and pages of followers that rarely if ever post themselves and have few if any followers.”

Tang and Pope also noted that, while most universities tend to draw urban educated followers from big cities like Shanghai, Yale seems to hold a powerful lure to more rural residents. 20% of their following comes from Hunan, described by the authors as a rural rice-farming region.

In other words, Tang and Pope strongly suspect that many or most of Yale’s Sina Weibo account followers are not real people at all. They are zombie accounts created merely to make it look like Yale has a bigger following.

And how do you go about purchasing a Chinese zombie Yalie? The Economist has reported that it costs “pennies” to purchase a simple fake account — called a “zombie” because it mindlessly follows you — but you can also purchase more active followers who comment and retweet your posts.

Heck, if you want to really splash out, for $80 you can purchase “official verification” of an account, presumably under any fake identity you might like to assume.

Since the Chinese zombie Yalies have paper-thin identities with unlikely addresses and few or no followers of their own, I tend to assume that whoever purchased the bogus accounts did it on the cheap. Now the scandal is blowing up in their faces. Yale told the AP reporters that they didn’t authorize the zombie followers.

“Newsflash: spam is inherent on the internet,” spokesman Michael Morand told Tang and Pope. No doubt, but when you get “followed” by an entire apocalyptic army of Chinese zombies, you’re going to get a few questions. Even if you’re Yale.