Chinese bloggers say they have been threatened with legal action by Tesla for posting negative content about the U.S. automaker, as it battles a wave of bad publicity in the world’s largest auto market.
The electric vehicle company this month set up an account on the popular Chinese microblog Weibo for its legal department in China. Some users claimed that the account was used to send them private messages warning them of defamation lawsuits.
Public opinion in China, one of Tesla’s biggest markets, has appeared to turn against the California automaker in recent months after a series of controversies involving complaints from customers about suspected malfunctions of the vehicle.
At least two accounts on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have posted letters in recent days apologizing for videos referring to non-existent Tesla quality issues after claiming to have received legal warnings from the automaker .
By threatening to use legal means against criticism, Tesla is reportedly following the lead of Chinese tech companies, including Tencent, which has sued bloggers under the country’s defamation law.
These lawsuits often require retraction, apologies and compensation.
“Ruifeng Auto,” one of the accounts, said he would “think deeply” after posting a video in late May that suggested the brakes on a new Tesla vehicle had failed before it left the hall. exposure. The account admitted that the allegations had “no factual basis.”
A woman whose protest at the Shanghai Auto Show in April against an alleged brake failure helped escalate online anger against Tesla on Wednesday admitted a news aggregation app created on Jinri Toutiao. by ByteDance, owner of TikTok, that she had been “extreme” in pushing the company for compensation.
She had previously asked Tesla to turn her vehicle’s data over to regulators and threatened to sue the company if it didn’t.
On the same day, “The Five Thousand Year Old Rabbit,” a blogger who posted screenshots of posts he claimed came from Tesla threatening to sue Jinri Toutiao, apologized to the automaker for causing a any offense. The blogger had called Tesla a “garbage company” and accused her of acting like a “thug”.
The blogger, who also insisted that he had not made any content related to Tesla, added: “I also hope that not everyone creates hostility. [towards Tesla] because of quality issues and most importantly hope the problem will not be raised to the level [of] discussion between China and the United States.
He told the Financial Times that Tesla’s alleged warning had caused “inconvenience to my normal work and life,” but declined to speak further on the matter.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the activities of its Chinese legal department.
Xia Hailong, a lawyer at Shanghai Shenlun law firm, said Tesla’s warning messages suggested litigation was not the automaker’s first choice.
But if it took legal action, the company had a good chance of winning, Xia said, adding that the bloggers’ apologies indicated that they believed they had little chance of winning in court.
The US group, led by billionaire Elon Musk, has faced an advertising nightmare in China in recent months as it faces increasing competition from local rivals.
Chinese state media criticized Tesla for initially saying it would not negotiate with people making unreasonable demands, saying it did not take customer complaints over the Salon incident seriously. the Shanghai auto. This prompted the automaker to publicly apologize.
Tesla is the sales leader for premium passenger vehicles in the Chinese electric car market. Its sales in the country rose 29% month-on-month in May to 33,463 vehicles, according to data from the China Passenger Car Association.
Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing
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