The story of Luo Yixiao, a 5-year-old Chinese girl diagnosed with leukemia, whose father’s diary went viral with over 100,000 views in merely half a day on Chinese social media app Wechat, has been reported as a cyber marketing strategy only 5 days after it went viral. Chinese netizens’ heated debates again reveal existing dilemmas about charity marketing online.
The article, titled “Luo Yixiao, stay where you are!”, disclosed a father’s grief and helplessness in face of his daughter’s disease. It helped father Luo Er (罗尔) gain 2.7 million RMB (±391,800 US$) in donations since November 25.
The post was published on Luo Er’s own Wechat account, where other several pieces also exposed the family’s struggle with illness and medical fees.
However on November 30, only 5 days after Luo’s post went viral, other posts came up on Chinese social media that indicated Luo’s attempt might be a planned marketing campaign. The news stirred netizens’ rage on Sina Weibo.
Netizens revealed that Luo currently owns 3 apartments and 2 cars, and that most of his daughter’s medical bills were already covered by insurance. Luo is now blamed for cheating those who gave donations, and for using an ill child for his own benefit – which also negatively influences the fate of those children in China facing illness who really have no means to bear medical costs.
Various sources on Chinese social media claim that Luo was collaborating with a financial marketing company that every repost of the article from the company’s public account would be awarded 1 RMB (±0.15US$).
The number of tips given on the WeChat app quickly reached 50,000 RMB (±7255 US$), the maximum amount allowed by WeChat per article per day. This limit then led to people giving money to Luo Er individually through his own account; he received over 2 million RMB (±290,250US$) in tips within a time frame of 2 hours.
In response to netizens claiming that Luo received much more money than he actually needed, Shenzhen Children’s Hospital, where Luo’s daughter is under treatment, publicized his daughter’s invoice, which stated that Luo only spent 36,000 RMB (±5225 US$) on three months of treatment.
Luo spoke to Chinese media about the money he received, and told Beijing News that he would return the money if anyone felt betrayed by him. He also claimed that the reason he could not sell his own apartments was the high mortgage price, and not his own unwillingness.
However, many netizens deem it is clear that Luo and the company allegedly helping his daughter were hiding information about Luo’s financial situation and exaggerating the child’s illness, even using religion as a tool to win more sympathy from netizens.
Later on, the focus of the online debate shifted to the question of whether Luo should give the received money to charity, and to the overall problem of immoral charity marketing.
A “Coldhearted” Society That Donated 2.7 Million RMB
Pressured by the media, Luo Er accepted an video interview on November 30, in which he cried: “I’m so desperate…Nobody cares about my daughter…everybody only wonders if I’m a liar.” A Chinese netizen commented accordingly: “True, this is a coldhearted society that has donated over 2.7 million RMB for your daughter.”
The mixed reactions of Chinese netizens expose the dilemma on charity marketing; one group claims that nobody has the right to judge Luo Er for making use of the online possibilities to raise money, while the other group insists that Luo’s behavior is immoral. They say that Luo abused his professional power as an experienced media and marketing writer to cheat the public.
Many claim that it is obvious Luo did not make his child’s illness a top priority since he did not make use of his own possibilities, such as selling his belongings, before asking help from the online community. Other netizens used Luo’s example to further question the charity system and charity laws in China.
Debate over WeChat Charity
The option for large-scale donations via the Wechat ‘Wallet’ platform has been under discussion for some time. Last year, All China Tech reported that a new charity law was to be put into effect that would ban public donation campaigns initiated by unauthorized parties after recurring cases of fraud.
But the legislation did not ban persons from privately seeking help online. Besides, the tip function in Wechat is not regulated since the money does not directly transfer to the receivers’ bank account and there is no official invoice.
Amid controversy, Tencent, the company that owns Wechat, officially responded on December 1st that it had reached an agreement with Luo that his “tips” would be fully refunded to the original donators by the end of Saturday, December 3rd.
A number of Weibo users welcomed this decision, while some still expressed their sympathy for Luo’s daughter and the many other children who suffer from the similar conditions: “No matter what the truth is, the child is innocent. We wish her good health and hope she will remain strong in this complicated world!”
This article has been edited by Manya Koetse
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