The Dystopian-Like Reality Of China’s Social Media Influencer Farms

You can achieve success, but at what cost?

Social media influencers boast an enviable lifestyle that attracts viewers to their streams. While many influencers are self-made, entirely managing and producing their own content, there are also influencer “farms” that prioritize income and guide their stars at the expense of a life outside of their streams.

A “farm” | Pink Tacos/YouTube

Streamer Jin He wanted to become a musician but has ended up as one of China’s many social media influencers.

Jin He and Emma Wen (Jin He’s manager) | The New York Times/YouTube 

Although Jin He claims that she is content to focus on a career as a streamer as long as she gets to make and perform music…

| The New York Times/YouTube 

The streamer has been swept up into the farming system with little to no authenticity in her online personality. Instead, her farming company has perfectly curated her image. The set she films in includes a bookshelf full of foreign books to give her a “cultured” appearance, which tends to attract more high-paying customers.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

But these books aren’t actually even readable.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

Of course, through the management of this farming system, Jin He went from earning their “minimum salary of $120 per month” to “$30,000 to $45,000 worth of donations every month.”

| The New York Times/YouTube 

The farming system, in general, relies on efficiency and training. Streamers earn the most success by creating parasocial relationships with their audience to make more money. The different farming companies will even offer training classes on identifying viewers who have more money, not wanting their streamers to waste time on anyone who won’t be profitable.

Social media influencers training at a “farming” company | The New York Times/YouTube 

| The New York Times/YouTube 

Certainly, these parasocial relationships are easy for the streamers to create. One fan of Jin He even keeps the empty container of hot sauce that “she” gave him as a gift through her company. Explaining that he “would never throw it away” because it came from Jin He, who, despite only ever having virtually connected with him, he believes sees him “like a friend.”

Jin He’s fan | The New York Times/YouTube 

But Jin He doesn’t hesitate to share that she doesn’t have individual connections to her devoted followers since “[the viewers] don’t know just how many others there are.”

| The New York Times/YouTube 

China’s competition to be a streamer is intense, with “54 percent of college-aged respondents [picking] ‘online celebrity’ as their top career choice.” A company like Jin He’s is the most effective way to “train thousands of young women to become live-streamers,” which, in turn, has “skyrocketed [the e-commerce market] more than 280 percent between 2017 and 2020,” before it grew even further as a result of the pandemic.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

For attractive and talented individuals like Jin He, streaming has become a lucrative career, especially when they have the support of one of these farming companies.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

But is the success worth it? Not only does a popular streamer like Jin He not get a day off in the months leading up to Christmas, but she has no creative control over her schedule, content, or filming locations. Her company even watches her streams, rebuking her for appearing too tired on camera.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

And the influencer is beyond exhausted off camera, proving that the price of fame in this industry may be far too steep.

| The New York Times/YouTube 

Source: The New York Times and SURFACE

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