Some Guy on Weibo Says That Foxconn Workers Have Established a People’s Commune

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Sometimes social media pisses me off. Often times media outlets upset me. On rare occasions, they team up to annoy me. Today is one of those days.

Early this morning, while I was sitting at my desk with my decaf (I’m trying it for a month, just because) when I saw a report from a tech journalist that thousands of workers had rioted at a Foxconn plant in Taiyuan. Wow, big news.

I read the article, which had zero direct sources but only referenced a weibo microblog post. Hmm. I thought I’d better sit this one out for a while and see whether it was real or not. Over the next couple of hours, I saw that some of the major papers jumped on it and confirmed that yes, there was something going on at that particular factory.

By now, you may have seen one of these reports. All the major news agencies have covered it by now. The facts seem to be that:

1. Several hundred to a couple of thousand workers were involved.

2. The factory suffered some damage, including broken windows, but it is unclear how severe it was.

3. The factory was closed down following the whatever-it-was, and remains closed.

4. The cause of all this remains a mystery.

5. Several workers were arrested, and quite a few were hospitalized, perhaps as many as 40.

Now the annoying bits. I’m not going to do a proper fisking with quotes and links — screw it, I’m not interested. They know who they are.

First, is this really a story that merits emergency coverage by leading international media outlets? Maybe, but without knowing more details, the importance of the story escapes me. Nevertheless, they ran with it with little information, apparently fearing that all those tech blogs would scoop them by running groundless rumors about a violent struggle between the workers and their bosses.

Second, just about every news article I read about this today thought it was really important to find out whether this factory was involved in either supplying parts for the iPhone 5 or assembling it. Does this factoid at all illuminate the situation? We don’t even know what the dispute was all about, for God’s sake. Who cares what widget or doohickey these workers were putting together? The reality of course is that if a similar riot had occurred at a Chinese factory that produces a more mundane item, like cheese straighteners, the incident would have gotten scant attention even in 5,000 workers were involved.

Third, this is a good lesson about timing. The earliest reporting on this went with the tech journo’s version, which was just grabbing information from a weibo post. The rumor, or at least the suggestion, at that time was that this was a labor clash. A bit later in the morning, after folks called Foxconn, they ran with stories that simply used a quote from management, who said that the dispute was not work related, without getting the other side of the story. The latest round now says that there may have been a fight between a security guard and a worker that sparked the whole thing.

Please. If this is what I get from the newspapers, I might just throw all my subscriptions in the trash and just read the weekly news magazines, if any still exist. Take a breath, folks. I thought it was verboten to run articles with this kind of thin sourcing.

It seems that journalists have some sort of biochemical/hormonal reaction to the word “iPhone” that makes them goofy. Kind of like putting a plate of french fries in front of a toddler or showing a 14-year-old boy a picture of naked breasts.

I still don’t know what happened in that factory last night. Maybe I’ll find out on Friday when the Economist comes out.

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