Users across Chinese social media expressed their anger and called for a boycott over a viral video of an Asian doctor being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight this week.
The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s own Twitter clone and microblogging service Weibo lit up on Sunday night after the video was posted to the social media service. Within hours, the incident was the number one trending topic on the platform with 100,000 comments and nearly 160 million views by Tuesday.
Many of the comments across Weibo focused on what many believed to be discrimination against the man based on his ethnicity. Chinese author Song Hongbing wrote, “This is inherent arrogance…I don’t think a 69-year-old white doctor would be treated like this.” Other Weibo users discussed boycotting the airline.
Wang Guanxiong, a venture-capital investor, also posted his disapproval of the company on Weibo, saying, “Overselling is the responsibility of the airlines. Why was it an Asian who got beaten? This is purely racial discrimination…boycott United Airlines.”
Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines apologized for the incident in an online statement, but later an internal memo reportedly sent to United employees was leaked that stated, “Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,”
China is quite a large market for United Airlines, who have operated in the country for more than 30 years, providing more nonstop routes to and from China than competitors such as American Airlines or Delta. The incident on United Airlines has sparked such a response from Chinese travellers due in part to the rise of China’s middle class, according to Linda Du, general manager at consultancy APCO Worldwide.
“International travel is now really common for people, either for business or personal pleasure,” said Du. “[Chinese consumers] want equal treatment, a good experience and to be respected. They have a sense of protecting self-interest.”
Du also noted the use of social media to express anger over the incident as an example of the Chinese public using new media to make their voices heard: “In China, most of the traditional media is regulated by the Chinese government, so social media—the grass-roots voice—is the only resource they have.”
In February is was reported that Weibo had 313 million active users each month, just slightly behind Twitter’s 319 million active monthly users. The service, which was developed as a clone of Twitter only for use in China, is expected to outgrow Jack Dorsey’s social media platform this year.