Tencent accused Jinritoutiao of altering a headline with the purpose of damaging its reputation. On Friday, June 1,Tencent, which is based in Shenzhen, issued a statement describing the damage that Jinritoutiao had caused to its reputation. It also declared that Tencent had sued Jinritoutiao, demanding a public apology and a symbolic compensation of 1 yuan.
The relations between the tech giant, Tencent and Jinritoutiao, the popular news portal, have been difficult in the last few months. On April 30, Xinhua, the official news agency, published an article with the following headline: “How many articles are needed to get a regulation passed against the harm caused to kids and teenagers by online video games?” The article described the pain caused by video games to many families and advocated for a stronger regulation in the industry. It also lamented Tencent’s indifference towards the problem. Tencent is one of the main producers of video games, which is one of its principal sources of income.
Xinhua’s article spread rapidly over the Internet. Jinritoutiao republished the article, changing the headline to, “How many articles are needed to stop Tencent?” Considering the animosity between both companies, this was interpreted as a direct attack against Tencent. Some analysts suspect that the original article on Xinhua was not really written by Xinhua as it appeared on Xinhua unsigned. When Jinritoutiao republished it, it did not only appear unsigned, it did not show the editor’s name or source or any other information, which is contrary to common practice within the industry.
Tencent pointed out this fact in its social media accounts. It compared an average article’s headline information in Xinhua with this piece, making evident how much information was missing. Tencent has been in the media industry for years and knows how these things usually work.
As on May 31, the article on Jinritoutiao had half a million views, 3,685 likes and more than 10,000 comments. These indicate a bigger impact than the average Xinhua article. The night before, Jinritoutiao had issued a statement defending itself from the accusations. The statement blamed Baidu News for the change of headline; Jinritoutiao had just followed Baidu News’ lead. Baidu has not yet commented on the issue. Moreover, Jinritoutiao encouraged Tencent to read the article and think about its social responsibility regarding online video games. Not only that, the statement reminded how Tencent had decided to block links to Jinritoutiao’s video apps for being harmful, a few weeks ago. Jinritoutiao suggested that Tencent should do the same about the links to its own online video games.
On May 8, Zhang Yiming, founder of Jinritoutiao, published a comment on Wechat in which he accused Tencent of copying Jinritoutiao’s Tik tok, the video app that recently became the most dowloaded app on Apple Store. Ma Huateng, founder of Tencent, replied to this comment, warning that Zhang Yiming’s words could be interpreted as slander.
However, Tencent has also tried to damage Jinritoutiao’s reputation in the past. In one of its official accounts, Tencent published an article with the following headline: “Tik tok, please stay away from kids”. Jinritoutiao declared that part of the content of the article was not true and it sued Tencent. Jinritoutiao also published a provocative comment on Wechat that said: “We consider it an honor to be blocked by Tencent”.
Although in this last episode of the ongoing war, most comments supported Tencent’s claim against Jinritoutiao, both of them have played dirty in the past. Jinritoutiao is a serious threat to Tencent’s media empire and is also a part of TMD (Toutiao, Meituan and Didi), the new Chinese tech giants that compete with BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent). Jinritoutiao is also one of the few big Chinese tech companies that has not received investments from BAT. Recently, there were rumours that Alibaba was considering investing, but these were denied by Alibaba.