Don’t worry, you are not alone.

"Xi Jinping, CEO of China has been ousted." Just last week the news of his ouster was making rounds in many circles, although Indian outlets predominated vastly, some expat Chinese including Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent, in US rightwing media. It was simple: Xi was gone in a military coup. It all started when an exiled Chinese journalist (no reason to think he could harbour any anti-Beijing bias then, is there?) tweeted that Xi hadn't been seen since his return from the SCO Summit in Uzbekistan.

This was picked up by another anti-Beijing Youtuber Jennifer, who added a clip of troop movement in China for good measure, claiming it implied the army had taken over Beijing and Xi was out. The next was the Falun Gong media mouthpiece NTDV who took the tweet to a higher level with add-ons making the story go wide. Finally, the Indians took over and the story went seriously viral.

Indian media is immune to any credibility issue when it comes to China or anti-China that is. The audience expects them to be anti-Chinese even when it's not factual. Media is not perceived as a conduit for reliable information but a space for hope and aspiration and of course hating. Thus, the public was happy with the news and that was more important than the news being correct or not.

Commentators have said that the public response of Indian media shows how deep the antagonism is to China. That is all fine. But it also shows that the conventional idea of objective news being more important than fake news is not entirely true anymore. In fact, whether people want news or not is a question that needs asking now. Social media has created a virtual mentality where only the instant and the popular exist and fake is almost an adjusted version of facts. And many have no problem with that.

Media and belief

The timing was partly responsible for the rumour too. The Communist Party's 20th National Congress is from October 16. It is expected to give Xi another five-year term as the country's president and party's top leader. Meanwhile several top Chinese leaders have been sentenced to long jail terms as part of a CPC and army purge. It's a touchy moment for sure in China's political life but that also happens to be good timing for fake news. It also showed how pro and social media feed on each other. And increasingly social media leads and pro media follows.

George Fahrion, Germany's Der Spiegel's China correspondent, put out a thread of humorous tweets about the supposed coup. One tweet showed an old lady being wheeled around in a modified cycle-rickshaw. Fahrion captioned it: "Alas, hope is dim. Coup reinforcements arrive in armored personnel carriers." Fahrion's tweets were picked up by Republic Bharat TV. (The Telegraph, India)

India's response therefore should be seen as a good example of this change. While people claim to believe social media less, they rely on it the most. It means they either are hypocritical or are comfortable with this contradiction. It implies that fake news is becoming increasingly "real" and mainstream. And pro media is following the universal law of survival and becoming as social media looking as possible.

Just a few facts

So what was behind all the rumours about suspended flights, missing Xi and military troop's mobilization?

• It's obvious that Xi went into quarantine after returning from Uzbekistan. He didn't attend the last banquet there and the Chinese officials have informed that this was because of Covid-19 protocols.

• Flight cancellations at a mass scale are becoming common in China as it's pushing its Zero Covid policy with the kind of single mindedness that only the Chinese can muster. Not only have flights been cancelled but entire cities have been shut down.

• As for troop movement, they are actually always being moved. No big deal as far as a fact is concerned but when they are part of a fantasy, it's mighty useful fiction to have.

What was not reported was that instead of being ousted, Xi was very busy ousting. He was in the midst of a purge actually for a while and at least six top officials were arrested or sentenced to death and prison under corruption charges. Media is now reporting that these officials may be linked to many exile and expat groups. "Some have jumped ahead and said, "Many members of the Chinese diaspora media have had links to the officials sentenced and are witnessing the demise of a network that could have countered Xi".

The story was a good example of producing news which has no basis but is believed to have clout. It shows the power of social media and how that has overtaken pro media. People's attitude towards social media is clearly one of pious devotion and is closer to religion than information sourcing. So it's believed first and questions asked later.

Can the pro media survive?

At the moment, pro-media is seriously ailing and may not survive independently. The consumer is not interested in facts but opinions -more biased the better- which social media provides. Hence, social media has an upper edge particularly with its capacity to be popular without any investment. Sounds like an obituary for pro media.

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