A cautionary tale of Internet times
Updated: 2014-08-05 07:33
By Wu Yixue (China Daily)
It spread across the country in a farcical manner three years ago and has now come to a disturbing end.
The detention of Guo Meimei was bound to draw attention after the stir the young woman caused in 2011 by ostentatiously flaunting her lavish lifestyle while claiming to be a commercial manager for the Red Cross Society of China.
Police in Dongcheng district of Beijing have announced that Guo is facing charges including gambling and prostitution, and the heavily veiled cover over the 2011 incident has now been lifted and the truth has finally emerged.
But judging from the facts produced by the police, it seems there are still some things we should reflect on, as the online publicity seeker is now the principal actor in a much darker and more sordid tale.
The police have confirmed that the 23-year-old had no ties with the Red Cross Society of China, which will no doubt have come as welcome relief to the charity, as the public has remained suspicious of it ever since Guo first made her claims despite the charity's repeated denials that she had any connection with it. And its actions have been under constant public scrutiny ever since.
It was her claim that she became the general manager of a commercial branch of the Red Cross Society of China after talks with an "adoptive dad", a euphemism that is often used to describe a sugar daddy, while posting photos of herself with luxury handbags and an expensive car on her micro blog in 2011 that first propelled her into the spotlight. She said in an undisguised manner that these were gifts she had received from one of her adoptive dads, who is now also in police custody.
Guo's extravagant lifestyle and her ostentatious flaunting of it immediately precipitated the Red Cross Society of China into the vortex of controversy and an unprecedented crisis of public confidence.
Given the charity's lack of transparency about how it uses the donations it receives, the investigations conducted by the charity itself, which it said found Guo had nothing to do with the society, failed to dispel people's doubts and she continued to be associated with the charity in people's minds.
The public has been owed a credible investigation into the scandal from an independent and authoritative third party. Now the police have confirmed that Guo had no relationship with the Red Cross Society of China and she has admitted her claims and online behavior were simply publicity stunts to attract attention to herself.
The police also said that Guo had confessed that the story that she had lost a total of 260 million yuan ($42 million) in a Macao casino had been fabricated to promote a gambling website and she was not that wealthy as her income came from a few commercial shows and from her sex-for-money activities.
So the police investigation has revealed that unlike what people previously imagined, Guo neither has an "unidentified source" of enormous wealth nor has some backers with "influence", at least according to the investigation so far.
From the farcical beginning to its sorry end, the rise and fall of Guo Meimei is proving to be something of a morality tale, and Guo will pay a heavy price for her behavior.
However, we should realize that without Guo's desire for publicity and people's willingness to grant her it, and without the media fanning the flames of controversy and people's anger at the widening wealth gap, there would have been no space for Guo Meimei to fall into crime and disgrace.
It is the Internet that both made Guo's farce and broke it. People should be careful not to act on such online whims.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily. firstname.lastname@example.org