A Chinese automaker’s plan to pay cash rewards to people exposing Internet trolls has backfired, with social-media critics saying it should have spent the money making better cars.
Great Wall Motor Co., best known for making SUVs and pickup trucks, on Friday announced a 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) program to reward people who alert it to organized or paid internet trolling against any Chinese automaker. If the tip-off’s accuracy is verified by the company and a law enforcement agency, a reward will be paid based on the value of the information.
The plan is in response to an unhealthy social-media discourse surrounding the auto industry, according to Fu Xiaokang, a vice president at Great Wall. He cited an example of paid trolls disputing claims a manufacturing defect caused an EV-battery fire, instead blaming the driver for setting the vehicle alight in an attempt to mislead consumers about the safety of electric cars. He also said Chinese media has turned a blind eye to reporting some of these incidents because of internet bullying.
“These behaviors have damaged the previously fair and honest market environment and goes against the core values of our socialist society,” Fu said at an event Friday evening where the automaker unveiled its EV strategy. “We welcome everyone to destroy rumors and restore the truth with us.”
China’s internet is already heavily controlled, with sensitive political and social content quickly censored by the country’s cybersecurity agency, and social media companies’ armies of content moderators. Businesses and public figures usually take legal action against libelous posts instead of offering a reward program like Great Wall has done.
Internet users mocked the plan, saying the company should spend the money on better uses, such as improving its cars. Others criticized the automaker for hypocrisy, considering many of the positive comments on the company’s Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, were left by the same accounts and sometimes duplicated — something commonly seen with paid-for fake social media accounts.
Great Wall didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.