On Nov. 26, an article in a Hong Kong-parenting forum Baby Kingdom (親子王國) claimed a 24-year-old mother and her newborn son died while the father was playing video games, ignoring the baby who was allegedly choking on his vomit.
The report says the husband is addicted to games and his wife, named Fang Ai, bled to death from birth wounds on the same day; the medical condition was supposedly triggered by extreme distress after her son’s death.
The article, however, does not provide any other details such as the date or the name of the hospital although it says the incident happened in mainland China. There is no quote from the authorities or medical experts about the deaths.
This unsubstantiated story is not new. In fact, it is a variation of an anecdote that has been recycled again and again by content farms.
Annie Lab found, for example, an earlier post on NetEase, a news platform in China developed by a technology company with the same name. It was posted on Nov. 23 by an account with 19,201 followers in the blogging section called NetEase Hao (网易号).
The same story was then shared by at least 10 different media platforms in four days, including the Baby Kingdom in Hong Kong.
Unsubstantiated narrative recycled
The following table shows a comparison of 25 different iterations of the same story Annie Lab could find from 2017 to present.
The name and age of the mother have some variations. One article says the husband is a mahjong addict; another one says it was the author’s own sister who died; another story says the baby was a girl.
But they are all essentially the same story with no other details.
A comparison of different iterations of the same story. Links to each publication are attached here.
Many articles have been published with two particular photos but they do not appear to be related to the alleged incident in any way.
Reverse image search shows hundreds of web posts with Photo 1 above from 2015 to 2020 — 52 matches on TinEye, 265 on Google, 4 on YANDEX, and 32 on Baidu.
One of the earliest was posted on Dec. 25, 2015, on a Chinese website that described the image as a husband taking a selfie when his wife gave birth.
For the second photo above, there were four matches in TinEye, 153 on Google, 16 on Baidu from 2015 to 2020.
Content farms in full swing
Annie Lab’s investigation indicates that the wide circulation of the unsubstantiated tragedy seems to have been accelerated by content farms.
A content farm is a website that produces sensational, click-bait articles, videos and images in order to generate high volume traffic for online advertising revenue. Their content often consists of made-up anecdotes, repurposed stories from other websites and cut-and-paste images.
Kknews, one of the online portals that published the story in question three times with some variants, for instance, has been identified as a content farm. Some of their stories were banned on Facebook in October 2019.
Plqkqo.tw, meanwhile, was registered by an individual called Hu Yonghua whose stated address is in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, although the URL with “tw” makes it look like a Taiwanese website.
The shoddy website has no information in the contact section and its title banner seems to have been taken from a car dealer company, a telltale sign of a potential content farm.
Another website called Gogodayday.com is full of copy-and-paste sections. The “about us” page has the exact wordings found on a dozen other websites.
The other sections like “policy and safety” and “copyright” and “terms” appear to have been copied from YouTube (community guidelines, copyright and terms) while the content of the “privacy” page is identical to that of Google’s.
In China, false information and sensational articles are rampant, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China. In 2018 it launched campaigns against “self-media” accounts (independently owned social media accounts that act like content farms) and the authority summoned social media giants in the country like Tencent, Sohu and NetEase, urging for better self-regulations but many self-media accounts are still operating today.
Note: Guiding editors Cherry Lai and Purple Romero also contributed to the story with additional reporting.