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United Airlines has big trouble in China's social network

Social Cues: After video of an Asian passenger being dragged off a United flight goes viral, millions on Weibo are pushing back.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

People on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, are furious at United after video of an Asian man being dragged off a flight went viral.

Alfred Ng/CNET

Congratulations, United Airlines, your social media nightmare has gone global.

The airline was at the center of a social media firestorm on Monday after videos posted on Facebook and Twitter showed one of its passengers being dragged off a flight. They each garnered millions of views, going viral and giving the internet a convenient target for directing its rage.

While #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos continues to be a thing on Twitter on Tuesday, it's gotten even more legs in China, where it's the top trending topic on Weibo, the country's most popular social network. Weibo has nearly 500 million active users, with more than 180 million users on the social network discussing United's fiasco, largely driven by the fact that the passenger is Asian. The clip has been viewed more than 210 million times on Weibo.


Social Cues is our look at what people are talking about across Twitter and Facebook.


Social media has become a tool for the public to express their issues with companies, with millions of voices joining together to shame businesses for poor decisions. United is all too familiar with that backlash. This incident comes just two weeks after its "leggings" public image disaster. Pepsi found itself in a similar situation last week after releasing a commercial where it tried to insert its drink into a civil rights protest. And ride-hailing company Uber has been another frequent target of online anger.

A 2013 study on Weibo showed that its users are more likely to comment on posts they're upset about than news they're happy about.

And when it comes to United, boy, are they pissed.

Chinese users on Weibo are banding together against United, in support of the battered passenger. A comment from a witness in The Washington Post suggesting the passenger was removed because of his Chinese background is getting a lot of attention on Weibo.

CNET couldn't independently verify the man's ethnicity.

People in China are calling for a United boycott, showing photos of their cut-up membership cards as proof. United's market in China is huge, as the company brags about having the most nonstop US-China flights of any airliner. It's already affected its business: The company's stock lost nearly $600 million in market value in a single day.

United has since apologized, and promised to make sure a similar situation never happens again. CEO Oscar Munoz said the company will announce its investigation's results by April 30.

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