This article also appears on The Atlantic, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.
Yesterday, CCTV, China’ state-run television network, ran an expose on Apple, generating to an outcry against the company on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. News quickly broke, however, that CCTV had paid celebrities to post anti-Apple remarks. A slip up on the part of Peter Ho, a Taiwanese-American movie star and spokesperson for Samsung Galaxy, provided a glimpse behind the scenes. He posted:
#315isLive# Wow, Apple has so many tricks in its after-sales services. As an Apple fan, I’m hurt. You think this would be acceptable to Steve Jobs? Or to those young people who sold their kidneys [to buy iPads]? It’s really true that big chains treat customers poorly. Post around 8:20.
Ho was later updated his Weibo with a post claiming his phone had been stolen and that he hadn’t posted the previous message, but Weibo users had already noticed that he failed to delete the last sentence of the offending tweet, his instructions. Following this discovery, Weibo users began to copy and paste a comment onto 8:20 posts by Peter Ho, Mr. Liu, Zheng Yuanji, and other celebrities implicated:
Everyone post this, if you post this it’ll be deleted: Tonight something big happened on Weibo: I’ve heard that CCTV asked several Weibo celebrities to post negative things about Apple around 8:20. As a result, Mr. Liu, Zheng Yuanjie, and their compatriots were outed by Peter Ho’s post at 8:20, so now Peter Ho is pretending his phone was stolen and someone posted on his Weibo, and deleting comments on his Weibo as fast as lightning. Tens of thousands of comments have been trimmed down to a couple thousand. It seems like it’s a race between Peter Ho and these commenters tonight.
#PostAround820 quickly went viral on Sina Weibo, only to be censored some time later. Internet users took to calling the implicated celebrities the “820 Party” and criticized them for selling themselves. Many were particularly upset by the implication of Zheng Yuanjie, who posted anti-Apple remarks around 8:20 but denied he received payment or goods in exchange for it. A well-known author of children’s literature and critic of the government, Zheng recently decried restrictions on the amount of milk powder mainland Chinese could bring back from Hong Kong.
The 8:20 incident has already been picked up by every major Chinese news organization, and is sure to be a public relations nightmare for the celebrities, CCTV, and Sina Weibo. The only party poised to gain from the scandal, it seems, is Apple, for whom CCTV’s consumer rights expose may prove a blessing in disguise.