Fake traffic numbers are a problem everywhere, not just in the West. Bots and fake profiles are common on various social media services, whether Facebook or Weibo, using their sheer numbers to artificially boost certain posts and stories.

Weibo’s solution to fight fake traffic? Hide the traffic number when it goes above a certain point.

Weibo said that starting from late January, it will start capping the counts of shares at one million. If a post’s comments and shares surpass one million, Weibo will only display “1 million+” instead of the actual number.

“If we don’t break the number-only theory and traffic-only view, the whole industry and other internet platforms will be in an awkward situation where bad money drives out good,” Weibo says. 

One million still seems a lot, and even many Weibo users think so too. Under Weibo’s announcement and other posts about it, people are asking that Weibo cut the number down to 100,000. (That’s the view count WeChat caps for articles on its platform.) 

But posts with over a million shares is not uncommon on the platform: The top two celebrities on a Weibo popularity chart both have posts shared over ten million times.

Most of pop star Cai Xukun’s Weibo posts have shares in the tens of millions. (Picture: Weibo)

Fake traffic is a widespread problem in China. Similar schemes have been reported on Twitter and Facebook, but it happens in China on a much bigger scale. 

Research company AIMan, which focuses on data for the entertainment industry, said that 60% of discussion about the entertainment industry on social media platforms are done by “water army” -- fake accounts bought to generate traffic (and sometimes to troll people). It has also been estimated that one fifth of social media followers for most Chinese companies are not real. 

Weibo’s move comes after repeated media reports in the past year about celebrities and “influencers” on Weibo heavily inflating their traffic. 

In September, a Communist Party-affiliated Weibo account called out pop star Cai Xukun, saying that it is abnormal that many of his posts drew over 100 million shares -- 10 times more than the likes of those posts. State media has celebrities for allegedly buying social media traffic, saying that it creates illusions -- and will eventually collapse.

Incidentally, there’s an exception to Weibo’s new rules: Media and government accounts. Weibo says they get a pass for “good credibility”.