Amid the University’s push toward increasing social media involvement, Yale’s sudden popularity among an online Chinese audience has drawn media attention for its account’s curiously high number of “zombie” followers.
Since Yale debuted an account in December 2012 on Sina Weibo — a widely popular microblogging website, the Chinese counterpart of social media outlets like Twitter and Tumblr — it has attracted over 140,000 followers, surpassing other U.S. institutions which only have several thousand followers after being on the website for over a year. The Associated Press speculated that many of the accounts are fake, mass-produced accounts that are made to boost artificially another user’s follower numbers.
Although it is possible to purchase these fake accounts for a few cents each online, University spokesman Mike Morand told Associated Press that Yale does not participate in or condone false promotion by this method.
“We don’t do it, we don’t promote it, we don’t encourage it, we don’t like it,” Morand told AP. “Not to be cheeky about it, but it’s sort of like ‘Newsflash: Spam is inherent on the Internet.'”
Sina Weibo marketing company Zinch said it is mystified by Yale’s growth. If Yale is not paying for fake followers, then another possibility for Yale’s uncommonly large follower count could be that Sina Weibo has heavily promoted Yale’s account, and that the online Chinese audience recognizes Yale as a brand name. Additionally, companies that specialize in selling zombie followers could be signing their fake accounts up to follow Yale in order to seem more legitimate.
Whatever the reason, the “zombie Yale mystery,” AP reported, may be “called a harmless curiosity.”