Fight clubs have broken out across China. At least, in digital form. Group chats created specifically for users to swap abuse over subjects ranging from Taobao vs JD.com and Brasil vs Germany to pro-durian or anti-durian stances and more have become a hugely popular craze on WeChat in recent weeks. The online venting sessions allow users to show off their creative swearing skills and let off some steam before going about their real world daily lives as if nothing has happened, but Tencent has been left unimpressed by this latest use for their platform.
It all started with the NBA finals earlier this month when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors battled it out for the championship. Their fans started a quarrel in a WeChat group, added more friends to the group to help them scold the other side, and before long it had become a group purely for slinging insults at the other side. And thus a new Chinese internet phenomenon was born.
The group chats quickly spiralled to take in other topics — everything from supporters of Cui Yongyuan taking on those who backed Fan Bingbing and Feng Xiaogang in the recent “yin-yang contracts” scandal, to whether Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android was the best operating system. Things that could spark fight chats included appearance and height, hobbies and interests, regional disparity, and even food predilection; WeChat groups such as “pro-cilantro vs anti-cilantro” and “pro-onion vs anti-onion” have become hugely popular in recent weeks.
Despite recent attempts to shut the group chats down, the World Cup has naturally provided plenty more fuel to the fire.
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For many, the groups are an easy way to vent without any apparent real-world consequences. They also allow for some vulgarity-laden creativity, with some groups using rap and beatboxing or literary wordplay to express their opinions.
These videos from a group chat between Cavs and Golden State fans feature participants taking swear words and turning them into raps and beatboxing:
“If you wonder how to battle in abuse battles or feel uncomfortable cursing at first, don’t worry,” one participant told Nanfang Daily. “Soon you will know how to go with the flow. The environment will transform you.”
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The “clean up” has been treated with dismay in some quarters, with many commenters pointing out that the group chats are a fairly innocent way to let off some steam, and largely about subjects that don’t really matter.
“It’s just a game. Attacking people is how you play it,” student Chen Yu told Southern Weekly. Another participant, surnamed Zhang, told the same paper, “You get a sense of relief in the heat of the fight, but when it’s done, nobody takes it seriously.”
And so, just as soon as they arrived, WeChat “curse groups” may be on their way out again. One user we spoke to told us they’d joined because he was “curious and bored”, but found that many of the group chats weren’t all they were cracked up to be. “I ended up quitting all the group chats and deleting them,” he says. “Only the screenshots you see on Weibo and news outlets are interesting — once you’re in these groups it’s actually pretty dull.”
The abuse battles are apparently like toilets: people come, leave something dirty, and walk out feeling better. Yet this form of stress and boredom relief appears to be too sensitive for WeChat, who seem determined to flush the phenomenon off their platform.
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