Fake News and Internet Violence: China’s Most Viewed Courtroom Trial

  • Internet users slander the court without prove.
  • Tan airs a TV show when the trial is going on.
  • Tan's lawyer is good at manipulating public opinions.

On December 31, 2018, Mrs. Huang was walking with her two friends while a car suddenly hit them in Sichuan. The driver, Ma, drunk at that moment, fled the spot right away. Mrs. Huang passed away after a few weeks in the hospital, while her two friends survived. On January 2, 2019, Ma turned himself in accompanied by his family.

Police announcement on the car accident.

The case itself is a simple hit-and-run DUI accident, which should’ve ended pretty fast with the driver behind bars for a few years. However, the identity of the victim makes it intriguing. Mrs. Huang is the mother of Tan Songyun, a rising Chinese TV star. Since the start, the case has been under a spotlight due to the constant reminders of Tan’s huge fan base. On August 31, 2020, one year and eight months after the accident, Xuyong People’s Court openly heard the case by streaming the whole process online, which lasted over nine hours and received more than 10 million views, making it the most viewed courtroom trial ever in China.

According to some lawyers, the trial actually shows that the court is on Tan’s side. For example, in one part the court fast-played CCTV footage from the restaurant where Ma drank alcohol before driving. Tan’s lawyer asked to play the footage in its original speed, which would last over 50 minutes. The judge agreed, which is not a common decision in courtrooms. However, the trial is receiving different interpretations online.

On Weibo, several accounts with lots of followers claim the court and the police on duty on the day of the accident have been bribed. They claim that they have watched the whole trial and say that in the trial, the video footage and evidence have all disappeared and that the witness has suddenly lost his memories. They even affirm that the judge has called Tan “beautiful but useless.”

The 50-minute footage replayed on court.

Of course, none of this is true if you’ve watched the whole trial. But not all internet users are detectives. They just believe what they’ve read and start to create their own stories, such as how the father of Ma, the ex-vice chairman of the local Federation of Literary and Art Circles, has used his connections to help his son. Related discussions soon trend on Weibo, who announced on August 2 that they have closed several major accounts for spreading fake news about the trial.

By coincidence or not, right now, there is a TV show on air starring Tan. Some internet users have started accusing Tan of using her mother’s death to attract attention. They say it’s a common case, but she keeps making use of her influence to manipulate public opinion and allow fans to spread fake news.

The case is still not closed yet, as is the internet reaction towards it. It’s worth mentioning that Tan’s lawyer, Zhang Qihuai, specializes in cases involving celebrities because he is an expert in provoking public rage in order to get what he wants. Interestingly, many people are saying that this is why China is right about not being a total democratic country, because people are dumb and will believe whatever they hear. Let’s stay tuned to find out what Ma punishment will receive in the end.

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