The story of a missing 9-year old Chinese girl named Zhang Zixin, from East China’s Zhejiang province, stirred the nation. Police were searching from mountain to sea to find her.
Then, on Saturday, police found the body of a girl but it took several hours to confirm her identity.
In these hours, Baidu’s news app triggered a fake news scandal that’s possibly the worst one the internet firm has seen so far.
The app aggregates reports from various Chinese media outlets and also allows individuals to post messages directly if they disclose their identity and/or work-related information on their personal channel and become “verified accounts.”
One such account, verified as the father of the missing girl Zhang Ziyin, published a statement saying that she had passed away. The “grieving father” wrote that he hoped he could still be father of her in her next life time to continue taking care of her.
But because this statement came out before the police announced the result of her identification, readers and other news outlets started questioning the true identity of the account.
Baidu later announced via its Weibo account that it had confirmed that this account was set up with the authorization of Zhang’s father in the first place to help searching her girl but this message was not from Zhang Ziyin’s father, but was faked by an editor who was on duty that day.
The Chinese company apologized to Zhang’s family and its Baidu News app users, adding that it had fired the editor immediately after an internal probe.
This adds to cases in which Baidu, although holding the largest search engine market share in China, caused a public outrage.
Baidu, in 2016, came under fire for allowing fake ads and unverified medical advice on its platform. A viral post by a veteran journalist in China once proclaimed Baidu a “dead” search engine, because it had directed a large part of user searches to its own news platform.