Saturday, August 23, 2008

Calling In the Chinese Web Police?

Did Nike try to get the Chinese government to track down an anonymous Internet poster who criticized the Oregon athletic wear giant?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 23, 2008 at 12:07 PM

Did Nike try to get the Chinese government to track down an anonymous Internet poster who criticized the Oregon athletic wear giant?

It depends on which Nike story you believe - the one it issued Tuesday or the one it gave The Oregonian yesterday.

According to the original story as reported by Agence France-Presse, the anonymous poster claimed that Nike had forced star Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, whom it sponsors, to pull out of a race because it was afraid he might lose.

"The posting is a malicious rumor, and has not only misled netizens, but also seriously damages the company's reputation," Nike said in a statement e-mailed to AFP. "We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumor."

The story prompted a blistering column by Marina Hyde of The Guardian newspaper in Britain. The post about Nike forcing Liu to quit, she emphasized, was just "your basic Internet conspiracy, but the corporation's response was as swift as it was staggering. They announced: 'We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumor.'

"Relevant government departments? But how enchanting to find Nike speaking like the foreign office of an independent republic, almost as if the sportswear firm has an extradition treaty with the Chinese government.

"It hasn't, of course, so the rather more salient question is whether Nike has any qualms about getting the famously gossamer-touched Chinese government to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for - and let's keep stressing it - an anonymous Internet poster. ...

"Nike is enlisting the services of a repressive regime to crush its enemies. Don't [they] find that at odds with the kind of inspirational rhetoric that drives their adverts, where mavericks speak truth to power, and the individual is fetishised?"

Yesterday, though, Nike was denying it had ever asked the Chinese government to go after its anonymous accuser.

"Nike spokesman Vada Manager told The Oregonian late this evening that, contrary to earlier reported statements by the company, the shoe giant has not asked the Chinese government to find out who posted 'malicious rumors' about it on the Internet," Brent Hunsberger wrote on The O's "Playbooks & Profits" blog Friday. "That's quite different from what Nike said earlier this week ... "

"We have no intention of tracking anyone down, or asking for any punishment," Hunsberger quoted the Nike spokesman. He said the company "merely plans to file a complaint with Chinese authorities concerning the Web post."

Did some overzealous Nike underling initially speak out of turn, or did the company do some hasty backpedaling after it smelled a PR disaster in the making? We may never know.

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