Chinese social media is hooked on a new craze — paid compliments. Basically, users pay strangers a fixed fee for complimenting them or their loved ones. Many believe that the trend is a way for Chinese citizens to cope with the harshness of their lives.
Payment models for the “pay for praise” programs vary depending on the chat group. Some groups sell memberships for about 50 yuan (US$10) that come with about five minutes of compliments. A CNBC representative, who joined one such praise chat group, found that it focused on showering praise on the user’s loved ones.
“The administrator, who asked to remain anonymous, said they charge 15 yuan for three minutes or 25 yuan for five minutes of praise in the WeChat group. You can send in additional information, such as details of your relationship with a person and their likes and dislikes. You are then invited to one of the groups on WeChat alongside the other person you have nominated. And then the compliments begin,” according to CNBC.
Compliments are tailored according to a person’s characteristics and desires. People who are worried about their looks get compliments on how beautiful they are. Those who are feeling sad get inspirational messages that lift their spirits. Some praise groups engage in verbal abuse and have been shut down by WeChat. However, most groups tend to be filled with positive comments. In fact, the best ones have a moderator who makes sure that the group guidelines are followed during the “praising session.”
While engaging with praise groups is seen as a harmless activity, some warn that excessive involvement might end up causing psychological damage. “Everyone loves to be praised, but listening to too much of it from a ‘praise group’ might be counterproductive… The biggest risk is the constant emphasis on the ‘false self’, which makes it harder to see one’s ‘true self’,” Chen Kan, Fudan University psychology professor, said in a statement (The Straits Times).
Why it’s happening
Social media has a tendency to magnify the “bad side” of life in a way that might make one depressed. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania last year found that spending too much time on social media increases the risk of depression and loneliness. Those who limited their social media use were found to be more mentally healthy.
With pressures from studying, work, and relationships growing in China, the praise groups are believed to be a way for many people to escape the drudgery of daily life. People, who often live their entire lives without hearing one word of praise from their loved ones or co-workers, can finally hear compliments. Even though such compliments are fake, the fact is that it can uplift the mood of a person. This is why many Chinese are paying for praise.
Observers also state that the praise groups might be a reaction to the earlier trend of “curse groups” that was very prevalent last year. Basically, a person would choose a side in a debate and argue to prove the superiority of their side. This also involved verbal abuse during heated debates.
The phenomenon of praise groups started in Chinese universities last month. Students had apparently created chat groups to cheer each other up. This was picked up by the social media users and turned into the popular craze it is now.