Is There a Boycott in the Immediate Future for Baidu?

China’s go-to search engine and web company—Baidu, Inc.—has recently been accused of profiting from biased information being shared on several of its medical chat groups, sparking calls from many for a boycott of the Internet giant.

The medical chat groups are among the many on Baidu’s Tieba (“post bar”)—a major chat platform featuring a full spectrum of moderated forums. As one example, Baidu reportedly sold ownership of an active haemophilia-focused group to unqualified private hospitals, thereby helping them to target potential clients. To better accomplish this, a new “expert” replaced the group’s long-standing volunteer moderators without warning, and then began regularly posting ads for what were deemed substandard medical facilities. Some people ended up visiting these hospitals but soon after posted criticism on the group, due to dodgy medical practices that they either witnessed or experienced firsthand. Any and all criticisms were promptly deleted by the new moderator.

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The Financial Times reports, “In addition to problems on the haemophilia board, local media raised doubts about the qualifications of for-profit hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in charge of Tieba forums to dispense advice on high blood pressure, liver disease, vascular disease, and uterine fibroids.”

Shortly after, netizens criticized the practices on the haemophilia board and Baidu announced that it had removed the new owner of the group and replaced them with someone from an NGO.

Baidu has stated that it would halt profit-driven chat group ownership, but the damage is already done. There are many who say that other illness support groups are being moderated by fake experts and for-profit entities. Dozens of non-profits have already filed a formal complaint with the Beijing Administration of Industry and Commerce, accusing Baidu of violating China’s advertising law.

The monetization of the Tieba groups has been discussed on numerous state-run media outlets in China, pointing out how valuable they are as advertising money makers. So it should come as no surprise that countless other communities on the Tieba platform are backed either by those with an agenda or simply as a joint-effort helping Baidu stay competitive in the social media world. When it comes to manipulating people in regard to how they treat serious illnesses, though, that is sinking to an all-new low.

H/T: Financial Times