Eagle-eyed weibo fans in China have uncovered what appears to be a pre-meditated and co-ordinated attempt to smear Apple following a high profile consumer rights programme on national TV which slammed the firm for its customer service.
The broadcast on state-run CCTV – a hugely popular and influential consumer rights programme shown on 15 March every year – went after local firms too, but it was the lead segment on Apple which caused the biggest stir, according to TeaLeafNation.
The programme alleged that in China Apple doesn’t replace customers’ iPhones when they request a new device due to a fault, but instead fixes only specific parts. This means that the firm doesn’t have to reset the warranty period under local laws. Elsewhere in the world Apple hands over a new phone.
This apparent discrimination against Chinese users led many on social media to call for a boycott of the firm’s products in the People’s Republic.
However, things took a turn for the sinister after Taiwanese film star Peter Ho apparently posted the following message the next night, at around 8.20pm, in response to the news programme, commonly referred to as “315”:
#315isLive# Wow, Apple has so many tricks in its after-sales services. As an Apple fan, I’m hurt. You think this would be acceptable to Steve Jobs? Or to those young people who sold their kidneys [to buy iPads]? It’s really true that big chains treat customers poorly. Post around 8:20.
Drawing attention even more to his apparent slip including the last sentence, "Post around 8:20), which led Ho to claim his phone had been stolen and that the incriminating message had been posted by someone else.
However, eagle-eyed weibo followers began to notice a pattern – other celebs had all posted similar sentiments at around the same time.
It’s unclear whether the stunt was arranged by an Apple competitor - Ho has reportedly promoted Samsung kit in the past - or whether CCTV itself has tried to drum support up for its high profile report with some ethically dubious tactics.
However, the fact that Sina Weibo apparently began censoring all mention of the newly dubbed “8.20 Party” could point to government involvement somewhere along the way.
Shady shenanigans on the Chinternet is nothing new, of course.
A whole industry has sprung up over the past few years providing “PR and marketing” services to firms, which can range from deleting negative posts from social media to actively posting negative messages on competitors.
In August last year four Baidu employees were sacked and three of them arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes from these type of firms in return for deleting user-generated content from one of the firm’s sites.
Apple couldn't immediately be reached for comment. ®