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Ofo’s Bike Sharing Services Spark Outrage on Chinese Social Media for “Giving Privileges to Foreigners”

Apparently, all it takes is to be an American to get your deposit back from Ofo?

Gabi Verberg

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When one man dreaded waiting forever on the phone with Ofo’s customer service to get a deposit back, he decided the “foreigner reporting strategy,” and it allegedly worked. It is a story that is now going viral on Chinese social media, where netizens are outraged about the company’s “unfair treatment” of customers.

When one Chinese Ofo customer decided he did not feel like waiting forever on the phone to get his deposit of 199 yuan back, he decided to go “foreign.” Changing his account details, he pretended to be a man from California living in China for the past three years and sent an email to Ofo in English, Tencent News and other Chinese media report. Not only did he immediately get his deposit back, the company even sent him an apology letter.

For over a year now, the Ofo bike sharing service company is facing financial troubles which have forced the company to lay off workers and have made it extra difficult for Ofo users to get a refund of their 199 yuan ($29) deposit.

As reported by Technode earlier this month, amidst recent reports on Ofo’s alleged nearing bankruptcy and rumors of an acquisition by ride-hailing giant Didi, users have rushed to get their deposits back.

In the CCTV2 Economic News (经济信息联播) programme on December 3rd, Ofo users told reporters that the company’s app now only has a “top up” credit button in its settings, and that the button for “getting a refund of deposit” had been removed. When people tried calling the service center of the company, many got no response, despite numerous attempts.

Ofo was founded in 2014 and first launched its services in Beijing in 2015. Ofo bikes can now be found in many cities across China, where users first pay a deposit and can then unlock and track bikes, which can be rented for one yuan by the hour, using the smartphone app.

Now, the news has gone viral of the Chinese man who not only got his deposit refunded, but even received an apology letter from Ofo. All it allegedly took for him to succeed is pretending to be a foreigner.

When the Chinese man, who goes by the username “@ztj93,” had heard that he had to go through much trouble to get his deposit back, he pretended to be an American and used Gmail to write an email to Ofo in English, of which he took a screenshot and reposted it on his Weibo account. Within a day, the money was sent back to his Alipay-account, and a letter of apology was sent to his email.

The email from “ztj93” sent to Ofo on the 13th of December, at 3:51 pm, as shared on social media:

Ofo’s reply on the 14th of December, at 10:03 am:

When the man shared his success online, news went viral immediately.

At the time of writing, the hashtag “Pretend to be foreign and Ofo refunds immediately” (#假装外国人ofo秒退押金#) has received over 140 million views on Weibo.

Many netizens praise the man for his clever approach and congratulate him with his success, while also condemning the Ofo company for their “unfair treatment” of customers, with some even expressing their hopes for the company to go bankrupt as soon as possible.

By now, the original poster has placed a letter on his Weibo account in which he expresses his surprise with the fact that Ofo actually responded to him and that he got his money back, but also with the fact that the news has blown up on Weibo as it has. The man also explains that he is a long-time user of Weibo and that he since long has used the international Weibo version (it not clear at time of writing where the man exactly adjusted his profile details and if it was on Ofo or on Weibo).

He writes that although initially, it was just funny to him, he now has mixed feelings about the entire incident; on the one hand, he is happy that he has his money back, he writes, but on the other hand, he says that it makes him “uncomfortable” knowing that Ofo might give a preferential treatment to foreigners.

While he understands people’s anger about this, he writes, he also says that this anger should stay within “reasonable realms,” which it, apparently, has not. The poster has since deleted his Ofo posts, saying he knew the power of Weibo, but that he did not expect his post to be so influential.

On Saturday night (China time), Chinese media outlet Pear Video published a video on the issue in which two spokespersons for Ofo state they do not know about the incident and will look into it. Later, the phone for Ofo’s PR services was allegedly not able to be reached again.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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Backgrounder

What Are Weibo’s “Super Topics”?

Explaining Weibo’s “Super Topics”

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What are Weibo’s “Super Topics” (超级话题) and what makes them different from normal hashtags?

Over the past year, Weibo’s so-called “Super Topics” (超级话题) have become more popular on the social media platform as online spaces for people to connect and share information.

Weibo’s “super topic” function has been around since 2016. The function allows Weibo users to create and join interest-based content community pages that are online groups separated from the main Weibo space. One could perhaps compare these Weibo Super Groups to ‘mega-threads’ or ‘subreddits’ on Reddit.

These are the most important things to know about Weibo’s Super Topics:

 

#1 A Super Topic is Not the Same as a Hashtag

Similar to Twitter, hashtags make it possible for Weibo users to tag a topic they are addressing in their post so that their content pops up whenever other people search for that hashtag.

Different from Twitter, Weibo hashtags also have their own page where the hashtag is displayed on top, displaying how many people have viewed the hashtag, how many comments the hashtag is tagged in, and allowing users to share the hashtag page with others.

A Super Topic goes beyond the hashtag. It basically is a community account where all sort of information is shared and organized. People can ‘follow’ (关注) a Super Topic and can also ‘sign in’ (签到).

On the main page of every Super Topic page, the main subject or purpose of the super topic is briefly explained, and the number of views, followers, and posts are displayed.

A super topic-page can be created by any Weibo user and can have up to three major hosts, and ten sub-hosts. The main host(s) can decide which content will be featured as essential, they can place sticky notes, and post links to suggested topics.

 

#2 A Super Topic Is a Way to Organize Content

Super Topic pages allow hosts to organize relevant content in the way they want. Besides the comment area, the page consists of multiple tabs.

A tab right underneath the main featured information on the page, for example, shows the “sticky posts” (置顶帖) that the host(s) of the page have placed there, linking to relevant information or trending hashtag pages. Below the sticky notes, all the posts posted in the Super Topic community are displayed.

One of the most important tabs within the Super Topic page is called “essential content” (精花), which only shows the content that is manually selected by the host(s). This is often where opinion pieces, articles, official news, or photos, etc. are collected and separated from all the other posts.

Another tab is the “Hall of Fame” (名人堂), which mainly functions as a reference page. It features links to the personal Weibo pages of the super topic page host(s), links to the Weibo pages of top contributors, and shows a list of the biggest fans of the Super Topic. Who the biggest fan of the page is, is decided by the number of consecutive days a person has “checked-in” on the page.

 

#3 Super Topics Are a Place for Fans to Gather

Although a Super Topic could basically be about anything, from cities to products or hobbies, Super Topics are often created for Chinese celebrities, video games, football clubs, or TV dramas.

Through Super Topic pages, a sense of community can be created. People can be ranked for being the most contributive or for checking in daily, and comment on each other’s posts, making it a home base for many fan clubs across China.

The host(s) can also help somebody’s page (e.g. a celebrity account) grow by proposing them to others within the group.

Super Groups are ranked on Weibo based on their popularity. This also gives fans more reason to stay active in the group, making their Super Topic top ranking within their specific category (TV drama, food, photography, sports, games, etc).

What makes the Super Topic group more ‘private’ than the common Weibo area, is that people posting within the Super Topic can decide whether or not they also want their comment shared on their own Weibo page or not. If they choose not to, their comments or posts will only be visible within the Super Topic community.

 

By Manya KoetseGabi Verberg, with contributions from Boyu Xiao

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Insight

Visual China Group Under Fire for Claiming to Own Copyrights to Black Hole Image, National Flag, and Practically Everything

If the Visual China Group isn’t selling the copyrights of your images, you’re a nobody.

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The Visual China Group’s website has been temporarily shut down after controversy over the company claiming the copyrights of the black hole image and the Chinese national flag in its library of stock photos and illustrations. The question “Have you been watermarked by the Visual China Group yet?” has become a hot topic on Weibo.

The Beijing-based photo and media agency Visual China Group (视觉中国) is under fire for claiming they own the copyright in China of the first-ever supermassive black hole photo that has been making international headlines this week.

Screenshots from the Chinese company’s website showed that the image, that was captured by the telescope network of Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) through the collective efforts of 200 astronomers around the world, was claimed to belong to the Visual China Group and that it could only be used by others after purchasing copyright for it.

Visual China Group is also dubbed the “Getty of China” by some English-language media. Getty is a leading American supplier of stock images and photography. Noteworthy is that the Weibo page of Visual China Group also has the url “www.weibo.com/gettyimages.”

According to Business Times, the image’s original copyright belongs to European Southern Observatory (ESO) and is licensed under a Creative Commons license, which means it may be used on a non-exclusive basis to be reproduced without fee if the credit is clear and visible.

Screenshots of a chat conversation with the Visual China Group are making its rounds on Chinese social media, in which a representative of the company suggests the black hole image belongs to them and can only be used after fees are paid.

On Friday, April 12, various Chinese media reported that the Visual China Group’s website was temporarily shut down after receiving orders from the Tianjin branch of China’s internet watchdog (天津市互联网信息办公室) on Thursday night to rectify its online library.

The controversy over Visual China Group grew bigger when it was discovered that China’s national flag, emblem, Mao’s portrait, and many other images were also watermarked by the company. The Weibo account of China’s Communist Youth League (@共青团中央) was one of the groups calling the company out for this on April 11, writing: “Does the copyright of the national flag and national emblem also belong to your company, @VisualChina?”

The Communist Youth League’s post received more than 110000 comments and was shared over 91700 times at time of writing. Various companies, including Phoenix News, Ctrip, Haier, Xiaomi, and Suning, also joined the discussion in the Communist Youth League’s thread, wondering why their logos or images were also listed in the Visual China Group’s copyright database.

So many companies found their logos and images to be listed in the Visual China Group’s library, that the question “Have you been watermarked by the Visual China Group yet?” started making its rounds online, with many netizens joking that practically every image in China had been claimed by the company.

Companies such as China Merchants Bank joked around in the comment sections, wondering why their logo had not been watermarked by the company yet. Alipay also joined the discussion, saying: “Have we come too late?”

Digging up more dirt on the Visual China Group has almost become somewhat of an online challenge for some Chinese netizens over the past two days. One commenter pointed out that photos of Taipei were labeled as photos of the ‘capital’ on their site, triggering hundreds of reactions on the company’s political stance on the Taiwan issue.

By now, the Visual China Group has apologized on its official Weibo account, stating they would review their online database in accordance with relevant laws and regulations to avoid similar situations in the future.

It is not clear when the site will be back online.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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