Apple, Weibo, and CCTV’s PR Nightmare

After an annual CCTV program last Friday criticized Apple for charging Chinese customers a fee to replace the back cover of iPhones, a service offered free of charge in other countries, netizens took to Sina Weibo to discuss the claims. But while a number of popular bloggers and celebrities echoed CCTV’s criticisms, Amy Li of the South China Morning Post reports that one sloppy microblog post turned the conversation on its head:

The public mood seemed to be favourable for CCTV until around 8:26pm, when Taiwanese actor Peter Ho, posted the following message on his Weibo: “Apple plays so many tricks with their customer service? I feel hurt as an Apple fan. Have you done right by [Steve] Jobs? Have you done right by boys who sell their kidneys [to buy iphones], he asked, adding: “this is an example of big-name shops bullying customers.”

Ho’s message ended with a short line which soon became notorious: “To publish around 8.20pm.”

But it was nothing to be missed by sharp-eyed netizens and eager fans.

Minutes later, criticism, speculation and theories were posted on Weibo about Ho’s 8.20pm statement.

Within two hours, Ho claimed in a new post that somebody had commandeered his Weibo account and posted the controversial message. But the post had gone viral before authorities censored it, according to the Atlantic’s Liz Carter, and the incident was picked up by every major Chinese news organization. Netizens ridiculed both Ho and CCTV, and one well-known author who had denied on his Weibo that he had accepted money to post supportive comments. Kaifu Lee, the Google executive and well-known blogger who had not joined the fray, admitted that CCTV had invited him to post comments.

The chatter continued into Monday, according to David Bandurski at the China Media Project, who posted a screenshot of Peter Ho’s Weibo account. Bandurski also partially translated a blog post from Chinese writer Li Chengpeng which chided CCTV for its behavior:

It’s not that you can’t do some things on and off the air to go along with the fight against fakes. But you cannot use public power to make targeted strikes against those who aren’t your major advertisers. Of course you can criticise Apple, but you cannot let all of these domestically manufactured fraudulent goods off the hook when you could so easily investigate them, then turn a harsh and uncompromising eye on a mobile brand that leads the world in overall quality — even making it out to be something of great concern to the people, a form of national discrimination . . . The thing is, you’ve always done things this way. You act all the time like you don’t give a damn about your own face, and then you place the condom of state power over the instrument of your own private profit.

Those enterprises are bad, but what you’re doing is disgusting. A massive network like yours, with massive channel resources in your grasp and high-level contacts, but your creativity is such that you can only be compared to [propaganda] megaphone shouting over the countryside . . . .

You turn your eyes from knife attacks on our own children, but focus your attention on tragedies at schools overseas; you don’t criticize the way our own congresses have gathered like so many artificial limbs for 60-odd years, but always mock the way shoes have been thrown again in a parliament in some other country. You’ve never questioned why officials in our country don’t open up about their assets (great, so on this issue we must thank foreign reporters for asking this question at press conferences), but you take great joy in reporting about some government official overseas who got caught using public funds to buy a bottle of wine. Yes, there are certainly many untoward things happening outside China — poisonous foods, corrupt officials, poverty. But no matter how many of these dirty stories there are overseas, what the hell do these have to do with me? I don’t have family there. I criticize ugly things in China because these do harm to my own family (Oh, I see, so perhaps you criticize things overseas so much because you own relatives have already . . . ?). You are China’s national television network, so you should be criticizing more things happening right beside you. That’s how you contribute to your own country. Is it so hard for you to understand this simple concept?


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