Update: Baidu faces intense PR backlash following controversial comments by its PR chief on social media
Published: May 09, 2024 02:34 AM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Baidu's vice president and head of its public relations department Qu Jing, whose remarks on her personal social media account provoked an uproar from the public, has left the company, the Economic View reported on Thursday, citing an insider familiar with the incident from the company. Information from the company's email system also shows her departure from her position.

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has unexpectedly found itself in a public relations crisis stemming from recent comments made by its head of public relations.

Qu Jing, Baidu's vice president and head of the public relations department, created a personal account on Douyin, Chinese version of TikTok, during the May Day holidays and posted four videos. In the first video, she criticized employees who refused to go on long business trips, stating she had "no obligation to know if employees are crying," and no obligation to "consider employees' families, as I'm not your mother." "If you are not satisfied with your job, you can resign. I will approve it immediately," she said.

Qu later apologized for the controversy caused by her personal short video recently. "I have carefully read all the opinions and comments from various platforms, and many criticisms are very pertinent. I deeply reflect on and humbly accept them," Qu said in a WeChat post seen by the Global Times.

She said that the videos did not represent the company's stance and apologized for any misunderstandings they may have caused. Her original idea was to do her job well, but she admitted that she was too hasty and using inappropriate methods.

"Before posting the short videos, I didn't seek the company's opinion in advance, which doesn't comply with the relevant procedures and doesn't represent the company's position. I clarify and apologize. There were many inappropriate and unsuitable points in the videos, which led to misunderstandings about the company's values and corporate culture, causing serious harm," Qu said.

"If you work in public relations, don't expect weekends off," she said in another video posted previously."Keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to respond."

In another video, Qu said she had received hundreds of reports from employees' families, describing it as "the lowest tactic." She also said, "I can make it impossible for you to find a job in this industry with just a short essay. [If you don't believe me,] try it."

Due to the extreme nature of Qu's comments in the videos and the unreasonable treatment of employees, she quickly sparked widespread controversy.

In the past few days, several related topics about her comments have trended on Weibo. Many people believe that her tough approach demonstrates the excessive exploitation and lack of empathy for employees that large tech companies are often criticized for. Some netizens have directly vented their anger at Baidu and posted screenshots uninstalling the Baidu app. At the same time, some netizens have created sarcastic parodic videos from the perspective of employees.

After sparking widespread anger, the four videos posted by Qu were deleted.

Subsequently, a video widely circulated on the Chinese internet showed Qu in the office using a data cable whipping a homemade doll with a media outlet's name written on it. The shooting time and the person who filmed the video are unknown.

At the same time, some netizens pointed out that Qu's account followers might not be real. According to Douyin account information, Qu's account had hundreds of thousands of followers before she started to post videos, and the name was that of a clothing store. Therefore, many netizens speculated she had purchased the account.

In recent months, many executives of Chinese tech companies have opened public accounts on short video platforms, including Xiaomi's Lei Jun, Nio's Li Bin, and Li Auto's Li Xiang. Some executives have won public favor for their companies by chatting humorously with netizens in the comments section.

However, Qu sparked a public relations crisis just days after opening her personal account. Observers pointed out that she provoked public anger by "describing exploitation as something worthy of praise from a condescending perspective." Some media reports also noted that her videos were intended to provoke confrontation, a common tactic for gaining attention on short video platforms.

"Companies cannot simply enjoy the utilitarian value provided by employees without shouldering the emotional burden they create. People are the purpose, not tools," Red Star News stated in a commentary.

The 21st Century Business Herald quoted a senior expert as saying that Qu's remarks cannot be simply viewed as personal opinions. "Creating a workplace internet celebrity IP itself is not right or wrong, but whether the remarks represent the individual or reflect the company culture, they absolutely cannot challenge mainstream values. Above company rules and economic rationality, there is also human care, warmth, and humanity."

Following the incident, Baidu's Hong Kong-listed stock price continued to decline, closing at HK$106.9 on Wednesday, down 1.29 percent. As of press time, Baidu's US-listed stock fell 0.92 percent to $109.51 on Wednesday.

Global Times