Micro-blogger's appeal for help proves genuine
Updated: 2012-08-16 08:15
By An Baijie (China Daily)
A police officer in Fuzhou, Fujian province, shows a micro blog post asking for the public's help in identifying a dead man. Authorities and individuals are increasingly turning to new media to directly ask for help from the public. Lin Shanchuan / Xinhua
When leukemia patient Zhang Xiangzhi asked for public donations on his micro blog in January, many netizens suspected he was not as poor as he claimed because he had an iPhone.
Zhang, 31, a resident of a rural village of Lankao county in Central China's Henan province, was diagnosed with leukemia in December.
Unable to afford his medical expenses, Zhang began to seek help on his micro blog in January using an iPhone - a symbol of wealth in rural areas.
"The iPhone was a present from my former boss," he said. "When I worked as a driver in Shanghai last year, I saved more than 10,000 yuan ($1,570) in highway toll fees for the boss. As a reward, he bought me the iPhone."
He asked netizens to help him collect 200,000 yuan in medical fees because his poor family could not afford such a large expense.
Zhang said in his micro blog that all of his family's income had been spent on his 8-year-old son, who has suffered from cerebral palsy since he was 1. Zhang's 3-year-old daughter is being raised by his parents, whose annual income is only 3,000 yuan, which they earn by selling farm produce.
To get netizens' sympathy, he uploaded a photo in which four members of his family - his parents, his son and himself - knelt on the ground together, with a board held by his parents that said: "Please save the life of my son. Thanks."
His efforts were futile at first as no netizens forwarded his micro blog posts. He didn't get any donations for months.
He did not give up seeking help on his micro blog and started to send private messages to some celebrities' micro blogs asking for help. That proved effective.
"Renowned actor Sun Haiying followed my micro blog and forwarded my posts in April, and on the same day, I received 8,200 yuan of donation from netizens," he said. "It made me believe that celebrities could help me, using their influence among netizens."
At the same time, some netizens also questioned whether Zhang was really a poor patient who needed help, given that he used an iPhone.
"I understand the public's doubts over the authenticity of my identity, since there were some cases of fake help-seeking information on micro blogs, which undermined the credibility of micro blogs," he said.
A micro blog post forwarded tens of thousand times on June 25, which later proved fake, had a blogger asking netizens to look for a 10-year-old girl who had gotten lost in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on June 1.
The local police found that there was no lost girl as described in the micro blog, and an non-governmental organization dedicated to looking for lost babies confirmed afterward that the micro-blogger's information was fake, according to a report in the Yangtze Evening Post.
The information on the micro blog was believed to have been concocted by a company that makes children's clothes, since the post included the picture of a dress with the trademark of the brand visible, the report said.
Wen Xiurong, a policewoman from the Yanziji police station of the Nanjing public security bureau, said police learned that the girl mentioned in the micro blog was not lost at all.
"The girl's mother, surnamed Wang, told police that she uploaded her daughter's photo in the e-album of her QQ (an instant-messaging service), which was seen by many strangers," Wen said. "The police are still investigating the case, and the person who spread the rumor has not been found yet."
Jian Guangzhou, a journalist at the Oriental Morning Post who won fame after exposing the melamine-tainted milk scandal in a news report in 2008, said that he always receives many requests from some micro-bloggers who ask him to forward their posts to gain more attention from netizens.
"I receive various kinds of private messages on my micro blog every day. Most of them are requests for donations for medical treatment or to claim judicial justice," Jian said.
Jian said it was difficult for him to check the authenticity of each post.
"There are tens of billions of posts on the micro blogs every day," he said. "Not everyone who needs help can have his or her requests fulfilled."
Deng Fei, an influential public figure who initiated the Free Lunch for Children campaign in 2011, said that honesty is the most important consideration for micro-bloggers when they seek help from netizens, according to a report in China Youth Daily on Aug 1.
An effective platform
Although being questioned by some netizens over the iPhone he used, Zhang managed to collect about 44,000 yuan as of early August for his treatment.
The authenticity of Zhang's micro blog posts was verified by some charity NGOs, including the Shilehui, a charity agency founded in 2007 in Zhejiang province.
A worker from the Shilehui called the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University where Zhang received medical treatment on April 23, and learned that what Zhang said in his post was true.
Cheng Yuandong, a doctor at the hospital's hematology department, confirmed to China Daily that Zhang received chemotherapy on Saturday and he requires a bone marrow transplant.
The Shilehui called on netizens to donate for Zhang after his information was verified, and it finally managed to collect nearly 7,750 yuan to help Zhang after the post was forwarded more than 200 times.
Zhang said he was optimistic about his medical expenses, and he will post on his micro blog a picture of kneeling family members to show his appreciation whenever he receives a large amount of money.
Wang Zhenyao, director of the One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute at Beijing Normal University, said that the charity on micro blogs should be encouraged since it provided more channels for people to get help.
"It's natural that some micro-bloggers would exaggerate their difficulties to attract the attention of the netizens," he said. "It is much like begging on the street - the more pathetic you look, the more likely you are going to get mercy and help from passers-by."
Wang said a better mechanism should be established by NGOs to verify the authenticity of micro blog posts, under which the expenses of charity funds should also be monitored.
"It's predictable that some micro-bloggers will continue to lie to get public sympathy," Wang said. "Only when the country's social welfare system is completely established and everyone can afford his or her medical expenses will such bluffing micro blog posts disappear."
Liu Hua in Zhengzhou contributed to this story.
(China Daily 08/16/2012 page4)