This is a sad story; and the “sad” applies to many aspects of the one story.
A WeChat post has been flooding the screens of Chinese social media since last Friday. The post was published by a father named Luo Er, originally from south China’s Hunan province. After his five year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, he is now under pressure by both sorrow and the significant medical costs he apparently can’t afford.
The article went viral, and he collected over RMB 2.62 million (USD 380,648) from about 110,000 WeChat users.
By Thursday, the money had been returned. Luo, the father, who a moment ago was the receiver of kindness, is now the target of harsh condemnation: netizens think they were fooled and taken advantage of.
The source of kindness…and the chaos that follows
Last Friday, Luo Er published a WeChat post about his daughter with leukemia. In a couple of days, the tear-inducing words collected more than 100,000 “likes”.
Two days later, a WeChat official account entitled “P2P Guancha”, or “P2P Observe”, published another post based on Luo’s article, and promised netizens that with every repost of the story, one RMB would be contributed to the poor girl with leukemia. The money, to a maximum of RMB 500,000 would be donated by Xiaotongren, the company behind P2P Guancha.
Hundred of thousands of WeChat users forwarded the article to their friends. Some directly donated small sums of money to the articles, using a WeChat feature that allows readers to donate money to writers posting on the platform. Others stayed up late at night, just so that they could be “allowed” to offer the donations.
Kindness spreads to absurd proportions
According to WeChat, each post on the platform can get a maximum of RMB 50,000 for donations per day. However, when the amount was reached on Tuesday and the rewarding service was frozen, a number of WeChat users waited until the wee hours of the morning to continue to reward Luo’s post with donations.
Things went crazy. The maximum of RMB 50,000 for donations was reached in the very first single minute of Wednesday. This triggered to a bug for WeChat system, which failed to freeze the tipping service, and didn’t respond until 50 minutes later. During this time, WeChat users donated more than RMB two million to Luo’s post.
WeChat apologized for the glitch that, though is now fixed, has led to controversial discussions among the public. It also emphasized that the post-rewarding function cannot be utilized for philanthropy donations.
The post by P2P Observe has been deleted for inducing users on purpose to share the post, which violates relevant WeChat stipulations. In addition, Luo and Xiaotongren have agreed to return the collected RMB 2.6 million back to their donors by Saturday.
When kindness morphs into condemnation
Turning points on the story burst out of the blue on Wednesday morning, when voices raised and new evidence appeared, leading to doubts as to whether Luo was taking advantage of his daughter’s misfortune, and netizens’ kindness, to make money.
A doctor from a hospital in Shenzhen where Luo’s daughter is being treated posted online, saying that the daily medical cost was about RMB 5,000 and not the “tens of thousands” as was claimed by Luo in his article. In addition, 80% of the costs were eligible for reimbursement.
Then the hardest blow came: Luo does not appear to be short of money. Netizens exposed that Luo had posted publicly in July that he owned “three house properties, two cars, and a promising company”. Later in an interview with The Beijing News, Luo said that he only owns one apartment in Shenzhen.
Additionally, a screenshot of apparently leaked chat history was taken as evidence that Luo colluded with his old friend, the chairman of Xiaotongren, to take advantage of the public kindness for money and fame. Chat history is notoriously difficult to verify, but regardless, the leaked chat image was interpreted by many as the last nail in the coffin of Luo’s credibility.
The whole incident raises questions about the ethics and the uses of social media. To what extent is it legitimate to ask for money over social media?
If the person asking for donations is acting unethically, how should the public find out? And if they find out, how should the public and the law respond?
These are issues that need better answers.
(All photos from Wechat)