Mystery of the Chinese zombie Yalies

U.S. universities have responded to China’s exploding demand for American higher education with branch campuses and aggressive recruiting, the Associated Press reports. Now, some are trying to boost their brands by casting photos and other snippets of campus life out into the confounding sea of Chinese social media. How confounding? Consider the mystery of the Chinese Yale zombies. That’s “zombies” as in “zombie followers” on Sina Weibo — the hugely popular “weibo,” or microblogging, site that’s roughly akin to Twitter and has attracted more than 500 million followers since debuting in 2009. A common feature on Chinese social media, these zombie accounts could represent actual users who lurk inactively online. But often they’re fake, mass-produced accounts that mindlessly follow (hence the name “zombie”) and artificially boost another account’s follower numbers — and thus prestige. Since its debut in December, Yale’s new Sina Weibo account — sharing photos and other assorted items from its Ivy-covered Connecticut campus — has exploded in popularity, apparently far faster than any other U.S. institution’s…

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