KFC Battles Negative Online Rumors in Shanghai Court

The “Colonel” is counter attacking, as China’s largest quick service restaurant operator pushes back against rumor mongers accused of spreading false information about its chicken products on the Internet and through social media platforms.

On June 1 KFC, a division of Louisville, Kentucky, USA-headquartered Yum! Brands Inc., filed lawsuits against in Shanghai Xuhui District People’s Court against Shanxi Weilukuang Technology Company Ltd., Taiyuan Zero Point Technology Company and Yingchenanzhi Success and Culture Communication Ltd.

KFC has been the subject of what Qu Cuirong, president of its China operations, calls “strange chicken remarks nonsense” since 2008. Among the false reports, amplified by microblogging micro-letters via the popular WeChat mobile phone platform, are unsubstantiated charges that the company serves poultry that has been genetically modified to have eight legs and six wings.

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The restaurant chain, which operates more than 4,600 outlets in China, is seeking 1.5 million yuan (US $242,000) in damages and a public apology from the three companies named in the legal action. The compensation figure is believed to be far less than actual losses incurred by dips in business following the adverse publicity.

Ms. Qu Cuirong, commenting on KFC China’s website, stated that by the end of April of this year “sensational headlines and pictures” numbering more than 4,000 in over 900 cities were irresponsibly disseminated through micro-channels in which over 130 accounts in more than 100,000 posts were read.

“This not only seriously mislead consumers, but also hurt our brand,” she asserted.

Meanwhile, China Daily has reported that dozens of government officials, experts and entrepreneurs convened recently in Beijing to attend a seminar organized by Xinhuanet.com, the multilingual website for Xinhua News Agency, to address how to best deal with online rumors about food safety.

“Rampant rumors about food safety – through social media feeds – not only provide incorrect information, causing the public to panic, but also damage the reputation of companies involved in the food business, panelists at the seminar said,” reported the newspaper.

Jin Fazhong, deputy director of agricultural products quality and safety supervision and management bureau, an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, suggested the rumors can be stamped out if consumers visit processing units for agricultural commodities and see for themselves how things work, and if companies release data to the public based on scientific quality-control checks conducted on product samples.

Jia Xiande, vice general manager of the executive board of Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Corp, advised media members to guard against magnifying rumors by refraining from publishing unverified stories.