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China tech giant Baidu V-P apologises after backlash over tough style

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BEIJING – A top PR executive at Chinese internet giant Baidu apologised on May 9 after videos she posted online sparked accusations of toxic and abusive management and sent the firm’s shares sliding.

Ms Qu Jing, the vice-president in charge of public relations, posted a series of clips in May on video-sharing platform Douyin describing her tough treatment of junior colleagues.

“Why do I have to consider the family of an employee?” she asked in one. “I am not her mother-in-law!”

“If your boyfriend calls you to ask about breaking up, what does it have to do with me?” Ms Qu demanded in one clip. “It is not my duty to know whether you are crying or not.”

In a separate clip, Ms Qu attacks an effigy bearing the name of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper in an apparent protest against a negative article.

She gloats in another that, while she remembered to buy gifts for colleagues, she forgot her son’s birthday.

The clips went viral in China, where tech giants have long been accused of promoting toxic and abusive work cultures.

Baidu has boasted of its tough working environment, with a 2012 letter to employees from founder Robin Li calling for a “wolf-like” culture to stay competitive.

Ms Qu formerly worked in public relations for Chinese tech giant Huawei, as well as a journalist with state news agency Xinhua.

“The PR image she built for Baidu has collapsed in the public mind,” one user on the X-like Weibo platform said.

“Maybe this kind of iron fist is needed at work, but in the long run it definitely isn’t conducive to the firm’s development,” they said.

Some web users even vented their rage over Ms Qu’s behaviour by posting screenshots of them deleting the Baidu app from their phones.

Ms Qu was forced to issue an apology after state-owned financial daily Securities Times estimated that the PR disaster had shaved US$900 million (S$1.22 billion) off the firm’s market capitalisation.

“My personal short videos… have made a big commotion in recent days,” Ms Qu wrote on her personal WeChat account on May 9. “I sincerely apologise to all netizens.”

Ms Qu added that she had not sought permission from Baidu before publishing the videos, which she said included “inappropriate” content that caused “misunderstandings about the company’s values”.

A representative said the company declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Asked by local outlet Sina Tech whether she had been sacked, Ms Qu said she would tell the reporter if they bought a year-long subscription to the firm’s AI chatbot Ernie.

Beijing-based Baidu is one of China’s top tech firms, with products spanning internet search, online maps, automated driving, and artificial intelligence. AFP

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