By now, many of you would already know that Richard Liu, Founder and Chairman of JD.com, was indeed briefly arrested in the US state of Minnesota for alleged charges of sexual misconduct.
There was much speculation in China’s WeChat-rumour-sphere when the news first emerged. The public was piecing information from birthday to JD’s press releases to ascertain whether the “Qiangdong Liu” arrested was indeed the founder of JD.com.
Mainstream US media outlets such as New York Times quickly affirmed the speculations, and the following image has been circulating around WeChat:
The rumour machine
Overnight, all the chatter in WeChat became focused on what really happened. Even some of the more serious chat groups stopped talking about business models and valuation, but instead started to focus on more info about the Richard Liu arrest.
Portraits of potential victims were circulated, with some later turning out to be minor socialites trying to become famous by hijackin the free buzz created by the incident.
People also shared stories/theories, real or otherwise, about what led to the arrest. A popular theory was that Liu indeed arranged for social escort through some agent; the escort, when realising the person is actually a famous billionaire, decided that the settlement for a sexual assault was much more lucrative than the fees from the service normally rendered.
Some WeChat users went to the extreme speculating the whole thing is run by a professional criminal gang or setup by a competitor of JD.com (there aren’t many notable competitors in China). These are unlikely of course, but nonetheless not entirely impossible.
Lawyers in groups provided their perspective on how such cases would be settled in China or US, giving the audience an idea the difference between the two legal systems.
Those who live in the US were trying to educate their fellow group mates on what is permitted to share in US, what is not. E.g. is it legal and/or right to circulate photos of the scene of the incident?
Some dug out Liu’s speech a while ago on entrepreneurs should be mindful of law and not end up in prison.
All very vivid discussions contributed to WeChat’s vibrancy as a social media platform.
Impact on JD & Tencent
One thing is for sure, Tencent’s portfolio is undergoing a tough time. Didi is grappling with the murder of second female passenger by a driver in barely four months; MoBike was sold cheap; and Ziroom, an apartment leasing platform, is struggling to respond to allegations that one of its customers died of leukemia because of the toxic materials used in the renovation of its room.
Some internet users joked that Richard Liu single-handedly diverted the public’s attention and saved the other Tencent-portfolio companies from going deeper into their respective PR crisis.
Tencent itself is under pressure, with its stock price reversing the recovery over the past two weeks.
The good news is, because of US Labor Day, the market where JD is listed is closed today. We will not see the real impact until at least Tuesday, and who knows what can happen between now and then.