China’s viral influencers are cashing in on coronavirus fear

Social media network Xiaohongshu has shifted from a travel and fashion-focussed site into a place to share tips on getting by in cities under lockdown

Chinese social media website Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book, usually falls somewhere between Pinterest and Instagram. Its 300 million registered users can access a mixture of tips, how-to guides and photos from travel and fashion influencers.

Users start crafting their feed by choosing interest areas upon signup and continue adjusting it by following topics, hashtags, and other users. The content is intended to shape consumer behaviour, which is made easier by an in-app store that is often tied to the products displayed in the posts. 

My feed is usually an innocent mix of recipes, crafts, travel, and an occasional shocking video – there are barely any trigger warnings for visuals posted on the Chinese internet. But now, it’s becoming a repository of coronavirus content. 

With more than 28,000 cases of the virus and more than 500 deaths, China is cancelling events, restaurants are closed, and many city dwellers are in self-imposed, or state-enforced quarantine. With the majority of real-life entertainment out of bounds, fun-deprived citizens are turning to the internet – but even online, they’re being bombarded with information about the virus. 

The hashtag that has united the whole country online and offline is “Wuhan, add oil!” (武汉加油) which could be translated as “Go, Wuhan” and has been looked up more than 330 million times on Xiaohongshu alone. Thanks to such popularity, one Wuhan-based user documenting daily life and his own health condition (spoiler alert: he and his girlfriend did develop a fever) during the city-wide lockdown has seen some of his videos reach up to 25,000 likes, which is a sharp increase compared to the pre-outbreak average of 30-40 per post. 

The slogan “Go, Wuhan” has become a shorthand for the struggle against the virus and a way to express solidarity with those working to fight it. Xiaohongshu has even dedicated a special page to the disease, where users can find other relevant hashtags, hottest posts, or watch live videos and interviews on the topic. 

Other popular hashtags on the platform include “precautions when going outside” (over 95 million searches), “general house cleaning” (348,000 searches), or “beautiful and effective mask” (9,203 searches).

The first wave of outbreak-related content hit the nation with teary music and shots of the overworked hospital staff or construction workers, who have been slogging around the clock to build a make-shift hospital in the epicentre of the outbreak. Now it’s competing with practical – and sometimes not so practical – tips helping citizens to get through and adapt to the unusual routine. “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. 

Most of Carey’s posts are usually makeup, skincare reviews and stories about his plastic surgeries. Now, four out of five are related to coronavirus. The blogger explains the different ways of disinfecting your home environment or choosing a suitable mask. “My father and grandparents are all doctors, so I am very familiar with this subject,” Carey stresses when talking about the importance of surgical masks.Why we shouldn’t pin our hopes on a coronavirus vaccine

“Some influencers started posting content related to the novel coronavirus because they know it is a hot topic,” says beauty and fashion influencer Wen Wen, who has over 613,000 followers on Xiaohongshu. “The app is especially popular for skincare, beauty, and clothing, but it is expanding into other fields as well,” she adds. ‘Make-up routines to keep you entertained’ sit alongside ‘quarantine recipe collections’. 

Since wearing a mask has become synonymous with the outbreak, fashion and makeup influencers are creating content for this facial accessory. One user shares her “outbreak make up” routine with an addition of a smudge-proof lipstick and foundation that won’t stain the inside of the mask. Eye-makeup tutorials are another particularly popular topic amongst beauty bloggers, as that’s the only part of the face left visible, although construction-style goggles have become an increasingly common sight.

“The content on Little Red Book is meant to improve your quality of life,” says Wen Wen, explaining the popularity of suggestion and review videos that form the base of the platform. “Before buying a product people would often go on the app to search for recommendations”.

Now, it’s become a hotbed of dubious tips. One video shows how to make a mask from a simple paper towel and a couple of rubber bands or knit one, neither of which would do anything to protect the user from viruses. Sure enough, comments under such videos are mostly dismissive “these are useless” remarks. Further videos from the same user about how to properly wear and dispose of a real surgical mask suggest that these dubious tips may just be a way to attract more attention. 

Genuine doctors and nurses have also seen their following grow in recent weeks, as virus-related hashtags trend. Their tips about how to recognise a suitable mask, and what to pay attention to when protecting yourself bring more credibility to the state guidelines and cartoon posters adopted by China’s official institutions. 

Amidst the avalanche of emotionally-charged short videos that have flooded Chinese social media, the “tips-and-tricks” content offers an illusion of control. From feeling more confident in choosing a mask to less crucial elements like adapting makeup routines or setting up an improvised home office, China’s citizens are desperate for coronavirus content, and influencers are cashing in.

All Rights Reserved for Tautvile Daugelaite

One Comment

  1. Jordan G Kobos

    Why do you think it was created in the first place?

    Among other benefactors of course…

    I wonder do culprits prefer life in prison or firing squad?


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