avatar
Liz Carter senior contributor

Prominent Weibo Users Paid to Bash Apple? Introducing China’s ’820 Party’

(jonrussell/Flickr)

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.

56 Comments
Jump To Comments
avatar

Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • Alec

    Let me just put it out there as well, that there are claims that Peter Ho did this on purpose to draw attention to celebrities on Weibo being paid to post content like that. One reason put forward (have no idea how true it is) is that Peter Ho’s father is apparently a prominent Taiwanese-American IT businessman with close links to Apple, and Peter Ho’s also always been an adamant Apple fan.

    • Sacto_Joe

      Hate to be suspicious, but that sounds like hype to me. If that’s what Mr. Ho had done, then why did he try to pretend his phone was stolen and hacked?

      • DCjayhawk

        “why did he try to pretend his phone was stolen and hacked?”… to avoid prison camp?

      • Alec

        Thank you for what seems to be the only reasonable, level-headed response to my comment. I’m not 100% convinced he did this on purpose and I admit the jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned, but I think it’s a possibility and worth considering for a few reasons:

        1) You’d have to be incredibly stupid/clumsy/irresponsible to not quickly check a Weibo you’re getting paid big bucks to send to your 5.5 million fans. Unlikely from anyone, least of all a 37 year-old man who’s been in the industry for 15 years.

        2) The Weibo was written in quite Mainland-style Chinese, a departure from his usual Taiwanese/ABC-style of writing. Maybe he simply couldn’t be bothered or wasn’t allowed to edit the post, but also likely he was trying to make it obvious these weren’t his words.

        3) Possible that as a spokesman for Samsung he was contractually obliged to post that, so he did what he could to sabotage it without breaking his contract. Remember he’s always been an iPhone user (see my above response to user Techpm), so he’s not actually as in love with Samsung phones as he claims on the billboards. Later saying his phone was stolen/hacked as an obvious cover for ‘accidentally’ leaving in the last line, is a good way of showing Samsung he made an effort to cover his mistake and not get in trouble, but he knows netizens would see through that.

        4) We’ve seen other Taiwanese ‘bimbo’ idols like Annie Ino (伊能静) make a stand in the mainland. Maybe others are becoming more brave with making statements like this.

        Like I said, jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned, but I posted my original comment to get people to consider a possibility which is still being hotly debated on Weibo by baseline users as well as big users like 假装在纽约 and to a lesser extent 日本潮流林萍. Was surprised this possibility wasn’t mentioned in the article considering more people believe Peter Ho did this on purpose than not, at least amongst the users I follow on Weibo.

    • Techpm

      Did you read the article? “Peter Ho, a Taiwanese-American movie star _and spokesperson for Samsung Galaxy_ “

      • Alec

        Not only did I read this article (which said nothing I didn’t already know, though I’m not criticising the author for that), I read the original two Peter Ho Weibos and netizen comments before they hit English sites. Peter Ho’s been a consistent iPhone user since time immemorial and his Weibo’s have always been ‘Sent from iPhone’. Wouldn’t find it an unlikely proposition that as an American-born Apple user, his heart lies with Apple and transparency, rather than Samsung and CCTV/Weibo/Samsung dirty tricks.

        • Secular_Investor

          Alec your tortuous logic is irrational!

          If Peter Ho’s “heart lies with Apple and transparency, rather than Samsung and CCTV/Weibo/Samsung dirty tricks.” why would he?

          1) become a Samsung “spokes person”?

          2) Take part in a dirty tricks conspiracy to attack Apple on cue from CCTV?

          Get real…..LOL

    • Secular_Investor

      Alec your suggestion that Peter Ho did this to support Apple is utterly ridiculous. So much so that it prompts the question: Are you also a Samsung stooge like Peter Ho the “Samsung spokesman”?

      • Alec

        Very strained logic here. If anything I’m just a simple Peter Ho spokesman.

    • freerange

      Absolutely ridiculous.

  • Sacto_Joe

    Here’s the real message: This media is fraught with the ability to spew propaganda. The only solution is to doubt everything and to value calm, reasoned discussion.

  • the Ugly Truth

    Karma!

    Lol copy and paste……that can’t be Samedung right? How low can they go? Let’s make Koreans proud Samedung!

  • Saxon

    Plot twist: Apple set this whole thing up.

    • Techpm

      Nice try CCTV, but the game is up.

  • Secular_Investor

    Liz, thanks for helping expose this dirty tricks campaign against Apple.

    There is little doubt that Apple, one of America’s greatest, most innovative and successful companies with one of the most highly admired global brands, which makes such a huge contribution to the US economy in terms of jobs, taxes and prestige, has been subject to the most extraordinarily sustained, virulent attacks in parts of the media and Wall Street.

    Enough is enough. It is time that Apple got a fair break from those who should at least be fair, if not actually supporting it.

    May I make a suggestion? We Apple shareholders can help go viral on this evidence of this Anti-Apple conspiracy involving CCTV and Samsung’s celebrity spokesman Peter Ho.

    We can start at the top with President Obama, the Secretary of Commerce, Congress and Senate and ask them to step up and support an iconic US company which is under such deplorable, concerted attack, apparently in breach of WTO regulations, by China’s state TV and a South Korean company which enjoys level playing field access to the huge US market even though proven in Court to have stolen Apple’s IP, so far almost with impunity. jeopardising American jobs.

    We can also email the editors or post comments in articles, websites etc. asking for this matter to be investigated and reported on by CNBC, Bloomberg, ABC, CBS, WSJ, NYT, Facebook, Twitter and every tech website and blogger etc.etc.

    Lets go viral ourselves and encourage other Apple shareholders and every honest person of goodwill to do the same and play their part to support a great American company under such an underhand, concerted and illegal attack.

    I hope Samsung device owners are happy with their conduct!

    • Andrew

      Are you actually serious? I am a ‘Samsung device owner,’ and it had nothing to do with me.

      You self-interested little twerp. Perhaps you could save your venom for condemnation of the manipulation and censorship endemic in the Chinese media.

      • Secular_Investor

        So you think its OK for Samsung to carry out such dirty tricks?

        What hypocrisy when you then rant about the immorality of Chinese media but don’t care about the immorality of Samsung…..UGH

        • Andrew

          Can you cite clear evidence Samsung were involved? That’s business, all about profit, something you know all about it seems. What I am talking about is the morality of a government, rather different.

          • Secular_Investor

            Have Samsung condemned what their “spokes person” did? Have they publicly disassociated themselves from the conspiracy? No? Have they deplored the conspiracy? Why not? They are condemned by their silence.

            For you to condone or dismiss such underhand conduct by Samsung as “that’s Business” shows that you have a rather strange moral compass, especially when you claim that “morality of government” is “rather different”.

            That smacks of deplorable double standards and hypocrisy.

          • http://twitter.com/twit1188 twit

            Andrew, Peter Ho is the spokesperson for Samsung!! that’s tell Samsung is behind all these!!

      • paol

        Secular said : So you think its OK for Samsung to carry out such dirty tricks?

        What hypocrisy when you then rant about the immorality of Chinese media but don’t care about the immorality of Samsung…..UGH

        I would say: So you think its OK for Samsung to carry out such dirty tricks?
        What hypocrisy when you then rant about the immorality of Chinese media but don’t care about the immorality of Samsung. This morality reflects on ALL samsung buyers. I suspected this for a long time, now I know it to be quite true.

      • http://www.noisetech-software.com/Home.html Steven Noyes

        The manipulation of the Chinese state run media, in this point, seems to be as a result of Samsung $$$$

      • Jack Baker

        Andrew, the products you buy, if you are a conscientious consumer, are a reflection of your beliefs. AAPL is one of the few great innovative American companies today. I view it as patriotic to buy AAPL products not just because I am American, but because I believe AAPL has the best overall product and ecosystem. Believe me, very few South Koreans buy AAPL products for the same patriotic reasons.

        • Andrew

          I am British.

          • Secular_Investor

            I am not American, Andrew. I am amazed at the way so many Americans attack Apple but turn a blind eye to the deplorable actions of Samsung.

    • LlamaOfDoom

      I sidestepped the rivalry by buying Sharp. Similar feature set, and the phone’s waterproof, to boot.

    • AAPL_investor_too

      And which WTO regulation(s) has that breached?

      So we should get the full might of the government behind AAPL just so that it’s still inflated goes back to the 540+ range?

      Give us a break!

    • patko

      Someone has traders remorse, haha. You are holding a dropping AAPL stock arn’t you, and now you have a target to vent your frustrations on. Haha.

  • iPad_Help

    if Samesung has no problem with copying the products of their largest customer, I’m sure they have no problem with paying a celebrity to bash Apple. Would be nice if someone could prove samesung was the culprit.

    • orthorim

      I don’t know stealing another companies IP is one thing – there’s always copying going on, inspiration, imitation, in all industries – and I am happy to let the courts sort out whether this was against the law. I am just not buying their products as I like to reward innovators. Each to their own.

      However – some of the stuff that has emerged in the court and marketing battles around the world is that Samsung is a company that bribes people to further their interest. They bribe sales staff to push their brands; they pay celebrities to bash Apple (?!?!?! WTF). They bribe judges that are set to rule in their cases (as evidence recently a UK judge that ruled favorably to Samsung was subsequently hired as a consultant by the company, in what must be a huge co-incidence). Bribery is a way of business for Samsung.

      That’s going too far and I hope they get nailed for it.

    • ebcarter

      I’m just weighing in here, as the person who wrote this piece, that my best guess is that it’s not all Samsung. This is purely my speculation, but it seems more likely that China’s government wants to attack Apple in order to create room for Chinese (or at least non-US) companies to grow in the smartphone market — after all, it’s the govt/CCTV that decides whom to go after in their 3/15 Consumer Rights Protection program. It was Weibo/CCTV who asked the celebrities to make these posts, and the effort seems coordinated, and to include several celebrities not explicitly affiliated with any company at all. Perhaps they reached out to Peter Ho because he had an agreement with Samsung, so the activity would be in his interests.

      Then again, my expertise is in Chinese social media and censorship, not the smartphone market. If anyone has an recommendations of reading about that sector, I’d be very grateful.

      • aaa

        You are right. The Chinese government is behind this because CCTV is very strictly controled by the government. Chinese government is making an effort to try to switch the anger of Chinese people towards foreign companies and governments.

      • Chana Shouts

        The business world is just as complicated as the world of politics. And you are right. It is not all Samsung. Neither is the war in the Middle East all about ‘bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world”, including that part of the world which happened to be Muslim.

        • China Shouts

          @ Forum Adminsitrator
          Every time I post something, I have to type my user name and email address which is very annoying. Is it possible for you to improve on this, for eg, by allowing commenters to register once and for all, so they need not type in those over and over?

          • Johnny Zhang

            vote up! I did it again before I leave this message, which is REALLY annoying.

      • Johnny Zhang

        I totally agree to your speculation that the Chinese government wants to create a space in the market for Chinese smartphone companies. I would even say this bash has nothing to do with Samsung. It’s just a trick played by Chinese government and state-controlled media.

  • lucascott

    Steve jobs started the policy about swapping rather than repairing so that tells you what he’d say about that.

  • freerange

    The evidence is finally starting to come out about how Samsung has been directly involved in trashing Apple worldwide. They are spending a large fortune on marketing (10x Apple) with significant dollars going to paid bloggers. They are a scumbag company. CCTV is complicit as Samsung is throwing them huge advertising dollars, not only pushing this dishonest editorial agenda, but also manipulation through the Internet.

  • Harold Janson

    Just your standard attempt at a viral marketing campaign linking into an expose. It’s entirely standard practice to pay off facebook/twitter/whatever users to post your message. Or lest we get into the campaign of “hacking and defacing” twitter accounts with branding from other accounts (which happen to be owned by the same parent). West does it, it’s marketing, China does it, it’s suddenly “scandal”.

    • China Shouts

      Well said. In the early days, China dangled its huge market and extremely low costs of production (cheap labour, favourable and preferential tax policies etc) to entice foreign investments. That was when she needed their technology. These days, China has learned enough to be the mover of industries and this will reshape the old world order.

      • fdasasdf

        I am still waiting for Chinese products that rival the quality of American, Japanese, German, etc. You can’t shape the world when you produce second- and third-tier products.

  • http://drrjv.wordpress.com/ drrjv

    This method of bashing Apple is the same one Chairman Mao used against the people of China during the cultural revolution.

  • Hopfrogg

    Great article. I pointed out a very odd Apple Bashing campaign that was launched by The People’s Daily about 8 months ago.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/China/comments/wriw1/anyone_know_why_the_peoples_daily_seems_to_have/

    Of course both CCTV and The People’s Daily are just mouthpieces for the CCP. I have a feeling this has less to do with Samsung and more to do with trying to protect Chinese companies like Lenovo. China is happy to sell and lease land to Apple, but they seem to fear Apple becoming too successful in China and hurting home brands like Lenovo.

  • Michael Brian Bentley

    I’m not sure why CCTV would want to take such action against AAPL (or any other vendor that uses so much Chinese manufacturing). The whole approach is comical, especially since it is very difficult to keep that sort of thing a secret for very long. In this case, the secret was out around 8:20 that day.

    • the Ugly Truth

      Ever heard of $$$$$$$?

    • freerange

      Because Samsung is a huge advertiser on CCTV!!!!

  • whatever

    I don’t see what the big deal is. Celebrities are paid to endorse products they do not use (or particularly like) all the time. What’s the difference if someone is paid to say they don’t like a product? What’s more: to say that purchasing a product reflects ones beliefs is absurd. This might be true if you are painfully superficial, but I suppose people who think that way go to the store to find the oven mit that defines them as a person; yeah right. Sounds like a lot of people need to find something better to be passionate about besides a PHONE.

  • http://www.swift2.blogspot.com Swift2

    Odd, isn’t it, when Beijing agrees with the Wall Street dirty tricksters?

  • MP

    Samsung is an embarrassment to all. Shameful behavior.
    I will never purchase another Samsung product again.
    Boycott.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jaffam0nkey Paul Littlebury

    Why bother making up stuff, when Apple provide so much ammo themselves? Far more important problems to boohoo about, than corporate playground games. Apple arent above that kind of behaviour either. Hardly mind-blowing news, is it.

    • freerange

      Total BS. Come back once you’ve gotten yourself a good education.

  • Joseph Kool

    Well schiller went on twitter and spewed all kinds of lies about android but that’s ok because apple owns you people.

    • freerange

      Another post of total BS. Yes, Schiller erred in suggesting that Samsung would introduce their new phone with an older version of Android, but history was on his side as almost ALL Android phones ship with an old version. The rest of his comments were absolutely true.

  • China Shouts

    @ Forum Administrator

    Every time I post something, I have to type my user name and email address which is very annoying. Is it possible for you to improve on this, for eg, by allowing commenters to register once and for all, so they need not type in those over and over?

    This means they only need to log in and after that, they can post their comments right away.
    Also, could you allow “Edit” so that we can add in points which we have forgotten to write, or correct erroneous points, or simply, correct typo/grammar errors?
    Thanks.
    PS: In one of my posts, I even made a typo error spelling my user name as Chana Shouts instead of China Shouts.

  • BobbyWong

    Liz, you mistranslated Ho’s Weibo text. It sez “Probably send out around 8:20″. Da Gai in this instance would show it’s likely Ho’s instruction to his assistant on when to tweet.

    Is that why you guys are all omitting it, so it sounds less casual and more like directive from Chinese government? Fact is there’s no evidence to support the rumor.

  • http://twitter.com/twit1188 twit

    SHAME ON YOU, SAMSUNG!!! NOW LET’S BOYCOTT SAMSUNG!!