MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – While his fellow Minnesotans might not recognize him, an 8-year-old boy from Minneapolis is apparently an internet superstar in China.
The BBC reports that Gavin Thomas is the face of several popular Chinese reaction memes, the most iconic of which has been dubbed “fake smile boy.”
The “fake smile” meme is a gif of Gavin’s toothy smile, which many Chinese social media users use to express politeness in awkward situations.
• funny 😀
• eight years old 😎
• living in Minneapolis 😉🇺🇸
• a viral sensation in China 😍🇨🇳
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) April 2, 2019
According to CNN, experts estimate that the “fake smile boy” meme is shared in China as many as 10 million times a day across various social media platforms, such as Weibo, which is similar to Twitter, and WeChat, a Chinese messaging app.
When Gavin opened an account on Weibo, he got more than 1 million Chinese followers in just a day, CNN reports. He’s also visited China twice, meeting with fans and generating more memes, as well as working with his management team to sell merchandise.
While his popularity in China is a given, Gavin is also something of a social media star in the U.S. He’s got 1.5 million fans on Facebook, more than 450,000 followers on Twitter, and makes regular appearances with other social media influencers.
— Gavin Thomas (@gavinthomas) January 17, 2019
Gavin’s road to international meme stardom started in 2013 after his uncle shot goofy videos of the then 2-year-old on the now-dead video app Vine. Chinese users took screen shots of Gavin’s funny faces and created gifs, using them to poke fun at awkward social situations.
Gavin’s parents told the BBC that the 8-year-old loves making videos and one day hopes to be a YouTube star.