Marriott Freezes Its Social Media Globally, And Makes Grovelling Apology To China, All For A Drop-Down Menu And Liking A Tweet
from the rectification-of-names dept
As Techdirt readers are well aware, China is rapidly growing more powerful, both economically and politically. Its economic rise has been clear enough for some time, not least in its technological prowess. Its political might, however, has only recently become more evident, as it begins to assert itself in various ways around the world. China’s sense of its own power, and its increasing impatience with anyone that dares to go against it, is nicely illustrated in a recent incident. It concerns a drop-down menu and a like on a tweet, both belonging to the “global lodging company” Marriott International, which issued the following corporate statement a few days ago:
Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite: First, by incorrectly labelling certain regions within China, including Tibet, as countries in a drop-down menu on a survey we sent out to our loyalty members; and second, in the careless “like” by an associate of a tweet that incorrectly suggested our support of this position [that Tibet is a country in its own right]. Nothing could be further from the truth: we don’t support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups. We recognize the severity of the situation and sincerely apologize.
In addition to this grovelling apology, Marriott publicly punished itself by shutting down large chunks of its digital activities, as China Daily, the English-language news organ of the Chinese government, reported:
After identifying its errors, the company has taken the survey offline, “unliked” the post, shut down its six websites and apps in Chinese, and put a freeze on its social media across the world. The CEO has volunteered to issue an apology.
It has also terminated the contract with the third-party vendor that built the survey, a Canadian company that Marriott has been working with for a long time, and with the US-based employee who “liked” the tweet.
It’s not clear whether Marriott was ordered directly to take these actions, or decided to carry them out voluntarily. Either way, it’s striking that Marriott is apologizing so abjectly for actions taken in the US and Canada — not in China — and even shut down its social media activity globally, for a while. That’s a striking demonstration of China’s reach today: no matter where something happens, if the Chinese authorities don’t like it, they now expect businesses that want to work in China to come up with a “rectification plan” for these slips, just as Marriott has done, according to China Daily. That’s probably a reference to a concept in Confucian philosophy, the “rectification of names“, which means making words correspond to reality — in this case, the policies of the Chinese government. An article in Business Insider notes that other multinationals have received loud and clear the message China wishes to send by its humiliation of Marriott:
A number of international companies, including Zara, Marriott, Qantas, and Delta Air Lines, have apologized to China in the last week for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as “countries” on their websites.
Zara, Marriott and Delta Air Lines all deleted references to these regions as countries and were publicly reprimanded by Chinese authorities, while Qantas discovered and fixed the same type of “error” during a routine review of its website.
Expect much more of this kind of thing, as a newly-confident, and increasingly arrogant, China starts to swing its weight around. It will doubtless seize on even the most trivial “hurt”, real or perceived, as a pretext for humbling Western companies and thus, implicitly, their governments — just as they did to China once upon a time.