The best memes are nonsense and I love ‘karma is a bitch’

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That legacy, thank goodness, lives on with the latest meme out of lip-synching app musical.ly, brought to you by dozens of creative Chinese teenagers.

Called the Karma’s a Bitch Challenge, the joke is both simple to explain and impossible to explain, similar in spirit to classic Vine entries like “back at it again at Krispy Kreme,” “wtf is a chonce,” and “SKITTLES.” Simply put: teens lip-synch to a sound clip from The CW’s Riverdale, a show that is, itself, non-stop delirious nonsense and an absolute joy to watch. The clip is of Veronica Lodge — played by new Hollywood “it girl” Camila Mendes — saying “karma is a bitch,” in response to some news about a horrific car accident. After that, the lip-synchers change their outfits, expressions, or makeup in some dramatic way and the audio cuts to a clip from Kreayshawn’s 2011 viral hit “Gucci Gucci.” It makes no sense at all and why should it? It’s fun to watch. Each entry is approximately 12 seconds of bliss — far more than any of us has been conditioned to expect on the internet on any given day.

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How China Walled Off the Internet

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Today, China has the world’s only internet companies that can match America’s in ambition and reach. It is years ahead of the United States in replacing paper money with smartphone payments, turning tech giants into vital gatekeepers of the consumer economy. And it is host to a supernova of creative expression — in short videos, podcasts, blogs and streaming TV — that ought to dispel any notions of Chinese culture as drearily conformist. All this, on a patch of cyberspace that is walled off from Facebook and Google, policed by tens of thousands of censors and subject to strict controls on how data is collected, stored and shared.

If people in the West didn’t see this coming, it was because they mistook China’s authoritarianism for hostility toward technology. But in some ways Chinese tech firms are less fettered than American ones. Witness the backlash against Big Data in the United States, the calls to break up giants like Facebook and the anxiety about digital addiction. None of those are big problems for Chinese companies. In China, there is pretty much only one rule, and it is simple: Don’t undermine the state.

China’s King of Internet Fluff Wants to Conquer the World

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A Chinese internet company that serves up homemade break-dancing videos, dishy news bites and goofy hashtag challenges has become one of the planet’s most richly valued start-ups, with a roughly $75 billion price tag. And it has big plans for storming phone screens across the rest of the globe, too.

You may not have heard of the company, Bytedance. You may never have used any of its breezy, colorful apps. But your nearest teenager is probably already obsessed with Musical.ly, the video-sharing platform that Bytedance bought for around $1 billion last year and folded into its own video service, TikTok.

“Frankly, it’s meaningless stuff,” said Dong Yaxin, 20, a college student in Beijing who says he is active every day on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

‘Black Mirror’ in China? 1.4 Billion Citizens To Be Monitored Through Social Credit System

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Chinese investigative journalist Liu Hu found out he was blacklisted when he tried to buy a flight to Guangzhou last year. After several airlines rejected his booking, Liu discovered that China’s government was keeping a list of “untrustworthy” people who were banned from flying—and that he was on it.

Liu had fallen afoul of Beijing in 2016 after he made a series of claims on social media accusing officials of corruption. He was forced to pay a fine and apologize, and when he did so he thought the case was closed. However, it wasn’t: Not only has Liu been barred from flying, but his new status as a “dishonest person” comes alongside a slew of other restrictions.

“My life [is] very inconvenient,” he told Newsweek. “I’m also not allowed to purchase property, I can’t send my daughter to a good school or travel on high-speed trains.”

China’s Selfie Obsession

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Worldwide, Meitu’s apps generate some six billion photos a month, and it has been estimated that more than half the selfies uploaded on Chinese social media have been edited using Meitu’s products. HoneyCC told me that it is considered a solecism to share a photo of yourself that you haven’t doctored. “Selfies are part of Chinese culture now, and so is Meitu-editing selfies,” she said. In nine years, the company—whose motto is “To make the world a more beautiful place”—has almost literally transformed the face of China. There’s a name for this new kind of face, perfected by the Meitu apps, which you now see everywhere: wang hong lian (“Internet-celebrity face”).

Chen Xiaojie, a twenty-seven-year-old with caramel-colored contact lenses and waist-length hair, gave me a demonstration of Meitu’s most popular apps, on her Meitu M8 phone. Holding the device at arm’s length, she tucked in her chin (“so the face comes out smaller”), snapped a photo of us, and handed me the result. My complexion looked smoother, my eyes bigger and rounder. I asked if I had been “P”-ed—the Chinese shorthand for Photoshopping. Chen said that the phone had automatically “upgraded” me. “Only when you enjoy taking selfies will you have the confidence to take more,” she explained. “And only when you look pretty will you enjoy taking selfies and ‘P’-ing the photo. It’s all very logical, you see.”

Next, using the BeautyPlus app, she showed me how to select a “beauty level” from 1 to 7—a progressive scale of paleness and freckle deletion. Then we could smooth out, tone, slim, and contour our faces, whiten our teeth, resize our irises, cinch our waists, and add a few inches in height. We could apply a filter—“celestial,” “voodoo,” “edge,” and “vibes” are some of the options. A recently added filter called “personality” attempts to counteract a foreseeable consequence of the technology: the more that people doctor their selfies, the more everyone ends up looking the same. Like everything else in the app, the personalities available—“boho,” “mystique,” and so on—are preset.

Chen opened up the BeautyCam app and the words “Beauty Is Justice!” flashed up on the screen. The interface was laid out like Candy Land, with a winding path of rabbits, rainbows, and unicorns. Then came MakeupPlus, which not only applies foundation, lipstick, blush, eyeshadow, and mascara, but can also dye your hair, shape your brows, and change your eye color. Meitu has recently started partnerships with a number of cosmetics brands, including Sephora, Lancôme, and Bobbi Brown; users can test products on their selfies and then be redirected to the brands’ Web sites to place their orders.

I asked a number of Chinese friends how long it takes them to edit a photo before posting it on social media. The answer for most of them was about forty minutes per face; a selfie taken with a friend would take well over an hour. The work requires several apps, each of which has particular strengths. No one I asked would consider posting or sending a photo that hadn’t been improved.

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

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Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

The rise of the QR code and how it has forever changed China’s social habits

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Thanks to QR code’s rapidly increasing usage at off-line shops, the amount of mobile payments on the mainland is now 50 times greater than that of the US. Mobile payments in the US totalled US$112 billion in 2016, according to Forrester Research.

To consumer behaviour researcher Chen Yiwen, we are witnessing the dawn of “codeconomy”.

“China has started the transition to a cash-free economy faster than anyone could have imagined, largely because of the viral spread of two-dimensional barcode,” said Chen, a professor and researcher with the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. “It creates a new economy based on scannable codes.”

From big cities to remote villages, the codeconomy is already changing Chinese social behaviour, according to Chen.

Some restaurants have pinned barcode tags to the chests of waiters, waitresses and even chefs. Customers can scan the code to leave a tip if they are satisfied with service.