China's new social media craze: Paying people to shower you with over-the-top compliments

Sick of all the hatred being spread online, Chinese internet users are flocking to groups on social media where they can pay to be given exaggerated compliments.

the country’s largest messaging app, and QQ, which are both owned by internet giant Tencent.

CNBC spoke to participants and even got involved in one of the groups — known a “kuakuaqun,” Mandarin for “praising groups” — to find out how they operate.

Users can search for the groups on Taobao, an e-commerce site run by China’s Alibaba. Several different groups are listed there with different pricing options, starting from around 35 yuan ($ 5.21).

Once you purchase a round of compliments on Taobao, the seller will contact you with an invitation to a group on WeChat. There, you will be showered with praise from various people.

There appears to be varying business models, however. One group administrator who spoke to CNBC said they offer a service where you can invite another person into a group, and that individual will be given custom-made compliments. It could be a friend or partner, for example.

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.

The administrator said he runs the side business in his spare time with friends.

There are also free groups. CNBC found a number of postings on Chinese social networking site Douban for praise groups. On one of the posts, a number was listed. CNBC added that number and the person — known by their WeChat alias “Abelard” — then pulled us into the free praise group they run.

Users were firing compliments at each other within seconds. CNBC posted the following message: “Good morning. I just moved to a new place and spend a lot of time alone.”

Shortly after, one WeChat user replied: “This is awesome! Now you have more spare time. Take this opportunity to enjoy your ‘me time.’ One can be very happy by himself. And you have us here!”

The CNBC reporter, who recently moved to Guangzhou, then told the group he was learning Chinese.

“There is no limit to your learning. You are a really studious person. I believe you will master Chinese well in the future,” one user replied.

The groups are quite large. One group CNBC joined had nearly 500 people in it and another had over 240.

It appears the trend has picked up steam in the past few days with groups and discussion threads appearing on forum-like sites. One post on Zhihu, which is China’s answer to Quora, shows a post from March 7 from a praise group that belongs to a university.

One user complained of not being able to focus on reading, to which another user said: “This means your knowledge level is higher than the book.”

Social media has been criticized for having a negative impact on mental health and companies have been accused of not doing enough to police potentially offensive or extreme content on their platforms.

The pay for praise trend could also be a response to so-called “curse groups” which popped up on WeChat last year. Users would enter those groups and hurl insults at each other.

The administrator known as “Abelard” said people need to learn to give and accept praise more often.

“We don’t praise ourselves and we become stingy while giving praise to others” he said in a message in Chinese, which was translated by CNBC.

“The initial purpose of this group is to make us learn to praise others and accept others’ praise confidently. Here we can drop everything, use our heart to affirm and support others.”

CNBC’s Qian Chen contributed to this report.

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