Archive for January 2nd, 2009

New use of text messaging: mass apologies in China

January 2, 2009

I’m not sure what is more bizarre here–the emergence of text messaging as the latest mass media, or government and corporate behavior in China. In this story from the BBC, the now bankrupt Chinese company accused of tainting milk with melamine has apologized to millions of cell phone subscribers across China–by sending a text message. That seems a little strange to me. Hmm, my cell phone starts alerting me I’ve got a text message and it is from a big oil company saying, sorry we spilled oil in your water, or a big car company, saying, sorry our engines are blowing up. Maybe it is just part of the new world of high tech direct mass communication I have been talking about, but sending me a text for these purposes almost feels an invasion of privacy. Not sure I want to pay for you apologizing to me.

I should be all in support of this I suppose because I have been advocating for a long time the need to go direct and circumvent the media whenever feasible. But not sure this strategy is going to take off in the rest of the world. How would corporate giants get access to all cell phone numbers? I understand the government is trying to set up a nationwide text message alert for emergency notification purposes in cooperation with the wireless providers, but a nationwide network so companies can apologize? I think not.

The bizarreness does not end there. It appears that Sanlu, the company accused of adding the melamine “discovered” the problem and alerted authorities. But nothing happened until New Zealand complained. Not sure what discovering the problem means when the head of the company has pleaded guilty and possibly faces the death penalty. If she personally ordered the melamine added, I can see some pretty severe punishment, but if it was done at a different level and then discovered and reported, her culpability would most likely be explored in depth in a court of law in this country. And the death penalty?

But wait, it gets stranger. It seems if you are a victim of a problem like this, you may run into trouble with the government too. Families have been complaining about lack of support from the government and if you read down to the bottom of the story, you will see that such complaints will end you up in jail.

Mass text messaging an apology to millions, getting shot for discovering a big problem, going to jail for publicly complaining–ah yes, welcome China to the civilized world. God help the crisis managers in that country.