Chinese Giant Tencent Is Suing Bloggers Who Criticize The Company For 'Reputational Damage'

from the free-speech dept

It appears that the idea of SLAPP suits has moved to China. The Chinese internet giant Tencent is apparently fed up with its own users criticizing the company on its own WeChat blogging platform, and has sued a bunch of them (possibly paywalled — here’s another link for the story). The details are pretty ridiculous, even recognizing that China doesn’t (by a long shot) have a history of protecting free expression. What’s incredible here, of course, is that Tencent could have just shut down the accounts of the WeChatters. But, instead it’s trying to completely destroy them with these lawsuits.

?It?s very weird,? said Jianfei Yan, who was faced with a Rmb1m ($140,000) defamation lawsuit from Tencent in March after writing an article about the dominance of the ?super powerful? WeChat platform and its potential for data breaches. ?If Tencent questioned my comments, they could [have stopped] me publishing them on WeChat?.?.?.?but they just directly appealed to the court and sued me.?

Tencent declined to comment on the cases. But in a document submitted in May after a court hearing against Jihua Ma, another of the bloggers, it said it opted against deleting the offending articles on WeChat because doing so ?would further cause damage to Tencent?s reputation?.

But suing someone and trying to destroy their lives is not going to cause further damage to Tencent’s reputation? How does that work? And, honestly, the lawsuits seem to be targeting fairly mild criticism or people reporting potential bugs. But it also seems most targeted at those who are unable to afford to fight back.

Xuyang Sun, the third blogger, was sued by Tencent for Rmb5m earlier this year after he pointed out that the company?s efforts to reduce children?s time spent gaming could be circumvented. ?I think they just pick the soft persimmon,? he said, arguing that his critique was milder than similar attacks levelled by the state-owned People?s Daily newspaper.

And, yes, these lawsuits can ruin people’s lives. As Martin Chorzempa, from the Peterson Institute, notes in a tweet, because of China’s relatively new social credit system (and a lack of personal bankruptcy), losing such a case when you can’t afford to pay the sums Tencent is demanding, can literally destroy your life.

Of course, now some of us are finding out that Tencent is apparently so thin skinned and unable to take even mild criticism, it’s going to get people much more interested in what it is Tencent is trying to hide. How do you say “Streisand Effect” in Mandarin?

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Companies: tencent

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Comments on “Chinese Giant Tencent Is Suing Bloggers Who Criticize The Company For 'Reputational Damage'”

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16 Comments
sudo apt purge libflashplugin-pepper says:

In Communist China, a suit will cause people to NOT look.

it’s going to get people much more interested in what it is Tencent is trying to hide.

My bet.

You worked in "Streisand Effect" for at least the ten thousandth time, heh, heh. It gets MORE funny when you do that, Maz, cause you’re so obviously eager to use that quip of how long ago now? You’re "Sunset Boulevard" for teh internets.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'You saw what we did to them, now about your complaints...'

Tencent declined to comment on the cases. But in a document submitted in May after a court hearing against Jihua Ma, another of the bloggers, it said it opted against deleting the offending articles on WeChat because doing so “would further cause damage to Tencent’s reputation”.

If it cared about a poor reputation suing easy targets would not be the best way to address such comments, and deleting the accounts would very much be the better option, as while it would look petty it would be entirely within their right to give the boot to people using their own platform to talk bad about the company.

I suspect that their goal here is reputation based, in that they are likely trying to get a reputation of a company that can and will ruin anyone who says something negative about them, with the goal of scaring off any future criticism that might otherwise occur.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'You saw what we did to them, now about your complaints...'

I suspect that their goal here is reputation based, in that they are likely trying to get a reputation of a company that can and will ruin anyone who says something negative about them, with the goal of scaring off any future criticism that might otherwise occur.

Exactly. This is using that new social "credit" system for it’s true purpose: I.e. Identifying and destroying dissenters. Taking out anyone who would dare question the elite using the power of the state. An official blacklist backed by the state and filled with both names and funds by private interests.

Although it’s not surprising coming from a country like China where peaceful protests are illegal, one should always be mindful of and report such stories or risk losing the ability to do so when such behavior migrates here.

renato (profile) says:

Despite the point of persecuting those who cannot afford to fight back (is their intention to settle those lawsuits after scaring the users?), isn’t it better that it will be analyzed by a uninterested third-party, the judiciary?

Tencent declined to comment on the cases. But in a document submitted in May after a court hearing against Jihua Ma, another of the bloggers, it said it opted against deleting the offending articles on WeChat because doing so “would further cause damage to Tencent’s reputation”.

If they believe a crime is being comited on their platform, shouldn’t they have to remove it as they fill the lawsuit?
Does China has a section 230?
If not, the defendants should ask to include tencent as collaborators in their crimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tencent is the largest gaming company in china,
if you wish to launch any mmo or online game in china you have to team
up with 10 cent or some other chinese company .
the government have a stake in almost every chinese company,
every website in china is monitored ,
Any comment that criticise,s the government ,or mentions certain subject,s
support for hong kong protest,s , human right,s
,concentration camps, is blocked or censored or deleted .
Expecting free speech in china is futile and dangerous.
Maybe large companys which are basically run like semi state
organisations do not know how to react to simple minor complaints
or criticism .
If you posted that some government official was stupid or corrupt
in china ,or gave contracts to his friends you,d
very likely be arrested for some vague charge like
undermining the social order .
The rules for the internet in china are set by government department,
anything which is overtly critical or politically sensitive is censored and deleted ,
theres no need for section 230,
since the government has almost total control of all press and
websites based in china .

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