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.
Awful. Tencent is suing bloggers and journalists to silence critics. Note that thanks to social credit, if it wins case and writers can't pay damages, they go on a blacklist that can ruin their life. CN lacks personal bankruptcy, so can't escape obligationhttps://t.co/NKfKcLPPCD
— Martin Chorzempa 马永哲 (@ChorzempaMartin) August 28, 2019
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?
Filed Under: china, defamation, free speech, reputational damage, wechatCompanies: tencent