Is Weibo’s Raffle System Truly Fair?

4 min read 

There are 113 winners, out of which 112 are female Weibo users. Was it sheer luck? Or is there something fishy about Weibo’s raffle system?

It is a question asked by many Weibo users who did not win Chinese tycoon Wang Sicong’s generous lottery after the billionaire announced his plan to give out a cash prize of 10,000 RMB each to 113 people . The gender inequality triggered the public into questioning the fairness of Weibo’s raffle system.

A recap of the past lottery winners suggests that the issue is to be taken seriously: Past results also suggest that female users are more likely to win.

Weibo’s CEO Wang Gaofei replied by saying that some measures are implemented in the lottery system to screen out potential bots. Wang argued that female Weibo users are showing ‘better behavior’ by posting more original content, pictures, and videos compared to their male counterparts who are more likely to stick to reposting and sharing other people’s content.

This explanation certainly did not sit well with Weibo’s users and they created the ‘Typical Raffle Prize Winner Model’: If you fit the description, you are more likely to win Weibo prize draws.

  1. You have an appropriate number of followers (Having too few followers will make you look like a bot, whereas too many followers will make you look like you have a corporate controlled account)
  2. You have a fair portion of original Weibo content
  3. You do not have any forms of official verification
  4. You are between 20 to 30 years old
  5. You use iPhones rather than Androids (78 percent of the 113 winners are Apple users)
  6. You use interesting tags focusing on food, travelling, astrology, movies, etc. anything related to hobbies and entertainment

The correlation is clear: Despite Weibo claiming the lottery system is fair, the algorithm appears to favor urban young female professionals using iPhone products.

This became a sad reality for E-sports fans, who entered the lucky draw to celebrate their favorite team winning a championship, discovered that the raffle draw is no way close to a fair and unbiased one. It is ok to not win a prize, but it is not ok to unknowingly enter a biased competition for the benefit of Weibo.

IG eSports team (source: weibo account of Wang Sicong)

Critics argue that Weibo is implementing such discriminatory policies to attract more consumers instead of enforcing fairness. Young female professionals are more likely to spend money, from which Weibo can generate large profits.

As a private enterprise whose main goal is to maximize profit, Weibo certainly has the right to implement whichever policy or strategy to achieve such goals. Yet on the other hand, it is unethical to cheat one’s users who falsely believe that they are entering a fair game.

Think about the raffle prize draws that are available on charity dinners: We all know that the grand prize will be going to those in need. Technically, it is not a fair raffle. But everyone who participated in the event understands that. They were not cheated, they were not misled.

For Weibo users, it is increasingly hard for their content to be seen. With increasing censorship and the prevalence of promoted content. Users who do not want to spend money to promote their posts are getting less views. There are users reporting cases that even if they subscribed to a particular user, that person’s content is not visible in their feed.

And for users who do not create or post original content, the experience can only get worse as Weibo may force them to follow certain accounts, inserting ads into their feeds, and apparently, lowering their chances of winning a lottery prize.

Weibo is going too far in their quest to maximize profits: The Twitter-like platform is taking every measure to exploit and drive users to spend more money to receive more views and attention. With these measures in effect on the platform, new content creators are becoming less and less likely to get more followers and subscribers than before.

Other than the ethical challenges and controversies that Weibo face, the company is also facing tough long-term business decisions to consider: Will these measures drive users and content creators off the platform? And will these short-term benefits outweigh the long-term losses that the company seemingly will have to endure?

Platforms such as Twitter and Weibo started out as platforms where you could share ideas, stories, and discuss anything you wanted. While Twitter is still going strong following that path, it seems like Weibo is taking a wrong turn.

Can we blame Weibo for using these strategies? Probably not, but can Weibo do better than this? Well, they certainly can.

Featured photo credit to fatesinger.com

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