Zombies Will Eat Your Brains (And Boost Your Followers on Weibo)


Are you happy with the number of followers you have on Sina Weibo or its Tencent equivalent? No? Then let zombies help you…

Zombie accounts to boost your microblogging fan-base can be generated automatically by using software – or, more commonly, people can buy them online. They’re not brain-dead, however – the accounts are still active, they can follow others, and even comment or retweet. Just as spam has became a plague for email, now zombie accounts are ‘flourishing’ on Weibo. Some sellers have a large amount of “zombies,” and manipulate and trade them for profit. That is an open secret on the Chinese web.

Chen Chuan-liang, who works for Microsoft Research Asia, chose 10 Chinese celebrity tweeters as a sample and estimated that the zombie follower account among them is as much as 17 percent. Tencent Weibo is even worse, reaching as high as 56 percent.

Lee Kai-fu, the former VP of Google China, with over 5 million followers on Sina Weibo, joked, “I have one million zombies. If I can unite them, we will defeat the plants in the end.”

Interestingly, some zombies even “find” me spontaneously. Sellers of these accounts comment on my posts, telling me the price of zombie accounts and their QQ number for me to contact them. Zombies are pretty affordable too, as you can buy 1000 for as little as three RMB (under 50 US cents).

Everyday, uncountable numbers of followers are traded on Taobao, China’s largest C2C e-commerce site. A zombie seller on the site is pictured below. Taobao forbids such business, and both Sina and Tencent actively work to close a lot of zombie accounts.

A guy calling himself Little hippo said to a journalist from the Southern Weekly that he has thousands of accounts on Sina Weibo. He has more than 20 computers and a team of over 10 people controlling his pack of “zombies.”

The labor is divided between his staff: some generate new accounts, some update profiles and tweets, while others communicate with customers. Quite a ghoulish little industry he’s got running there!

Even when zombie followers get reported and deleted from Weibo, it’s not a problem for traders. They can generate plenty of new zombies in a short space of time.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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