(Editor's note: this article is first published by Annie Lab, a fact-checking project by Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong and Asian Network of News and Information Educators (ANNIE), and was written by Gigi Tang and Audrey Ng.)
An Instagram user posted a screenshot of what appears to be Weibo’s official Olympics medal table that puts China on top with 42 gold medals.
The image groups three separate teams — Hong Kong, Macao and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) — under China. The post reads, when translated to English, “How far will they go to rank first?”
This was posted on Aug. 8, the last day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and has gained over 17,000 likes.
A Facebook post claimed it was Weibo itself that changed the grouping method in order to make China come on top of the chart.
However, these images do not show the official table. They have been edited to look authentic.
In the Tokyo Olympics, China, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei are three separate teams.
China won 38 golds while Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei won one and two golds, respectively. Even if the gold medal counts could be added up, the total should be 41 gold medals, not 42 as the doctored images indicate.
According to the International Olympics Council (IOC), the United States of America topped the medal tally with 39 golds at the end of the Tokyo Games.
China had been leading the tally but was overtaken by the U.S. on the last day.
Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, congratulated Team USA on Twitter for ranking the first.
The Chinese Olympics Committee also stated that the U.S. topped the medal chart.
With reverse image search and keyword search, the earliest appearance of the misleading table Annie Lab could find was from a user-generated post on Weibo that reads, “Created a gold medal table. Attention everyone. Share this one from now on! (做了个#金牌榜# ，各单位注意，以后就按照这个发！ )”
The official table made by Weibo Sports can be found here. Annie Lab believes this is the source material for the misleading images.
As shown below, the team names and medal counts are different between the authentic one and a doctored version.
Annie Lab also found a screenshot of the authentic Weibo table posted by a user a couple of minutes earlier than the first doctored image with the false claim.
As for Macao, it has never been allowed to participate in the Summer Olympics Games, as this Special Administrative Region of China is not a member of the IOC, unlike Hong Kong.
The misleading images seem to have encouraged other users to make similar claims.
For example, this post on Reddit makes fun of China’s “double standards” with a satirical cartoon originally posted on Instagram, even though China has never officially grouped the three teams together.
The postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 started on July 23 and ended on Aug. 8, 2021.