Luo Er, thank you for leaving us without an answer

南方周末

中文 English

Editor’s Note:

the case of Luo Er and his attempt to raise funds for his ill daughter was certainly one of the most discussed incidents of 2016 in the Chinese charity sector. The basic facts are as follows: at the end of November an article pleading for help written by one Luo Er, a man from Shenzhen whose daughter Luo Yixiao was unfortunately suffering from leukaemia, went viral on Wechat. A very large sum of money was raised within a day, but very soon doubts started to be raised about the situation: people accused Luo Er of misrepresenting his financial situation, while the company that was behind the initiative also fell under suspicion. CDB reported on the affair here.

We have translated this article by Southern Weekly, analyzing the whole incident and its implications for China’s charity sector. In the meantime, it has been reported that little Luo Yixiao tragically died on Christmas Eve.

 

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Yesterday the name “Luo Yixiao” was to be found all over Chinese social media on three separate occasions.

First the article “Luo Yixiao, stop right there” was reposted by a large number of people on WeChat Moments. The article explained that Shenzhen writer Luo Er’s 5-year old daughter Luo Yixiao had been diagnosed with leukaemia and admitted to the Shenzhen Children’s Hospital. Her medical fees ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Yuan per day. Her father was terribly anxious, but he did not choose to ask for public donations, and decided instead to “sell text”. This means that each time the article was re-posted, the Xiaotongren Company would donate 1 Yuan to Luo Er, for a minimum of 20,000 Yuan and a maximum of 500,000 Yuan.

But just a few short hours later a reaction emerged, with a large number of screenshots casting doubts on the Luo Er’s story as it appeared in Wechat. In the main, there were four aspects of the story which were being taken issue with.

First of all there was Luo Er’s marriage history and private life, but we omit that part here as it involves issues of privacy and veracity;

Secondly, it was claimed that Luo Er’s family is actually well off. He had previously written a public article in which he claimed to have three houses in Dongguan and two cars. In addition, he owned a company with shining prospects, so his economic situation was actually quite good;

Thirdly, Luo Er wrote in the article where he asked for help that his daughter’s daily treatment and medical expenses reached dozens of thousands of Yuan, and his family could not afford them. However, information posted by netizens showed that close to 80% of Luo Yixiao’s treatment was reimbursable, and the portion paid by Luo Er himself had been exaggerated;

Fourthly, behind the scenes of Luo Er’s plea was a P2P company engaged in self-promotion.

Just as Luo Er began to face the public’s wrath, he appeared in public interviews, in which he responded to some of the doubts, turning things around once again so that the story went as follows: first of all, regarding the stories about him owning three homes, he explained that he bought the first property in Shenzhen paying 200,000 Yuan in full in 2001. Afterwards, he bought a hotel-style apartment in Dongguan and a 3-bedroom 80 sqm house in Changping totalling 1,000,000 Yuan with a bank loan of 400,000 Yuan and monthly payments of 5,000 Yuan.

At present he does not have the titles to the two properties and thus cannot sell them. The family only owns one Buick bought for 100,000 Yuan in 2007. He has never set up a company, and since the publication “Women’s Story”, of which he had been chief editor, went out of print in 2016, he has only being receiving a monthly salary of 4,000 Yuan. His wife is a full-time housewife, and the family has no other sources of income. The article he had previously written on the Internet was “fictional.”

Secondly, regarding the cost of his daughter’s treatment, according to the Shenzhen Children’s Hospital’s notice the fees for Luo Yixiao’s three hospitalisation were some 200,000 Yuan, and to date the portion Luo Er’s has to pay himself is nearly 40,000, with the remainder reimbursed by medical insurance.

Thirdly, regarding the issue of it being a promotional ploy, Luo Er explained that he is friends with the management of the P2P company. He accepted this method of donation only because he did not want to directly accept friends’ donations in cash, and he did not understand the marketing spin.

The facts of the matter may be subject to further reversals, but one thing is for certain: aside from the unfortunate fact of Luo Yixiao suffering from leukaemia, some of the claims in Luo Er’s article are patently false, such as the following claim: “the cost of the intensive care room is tens of thousands of Yuan a day, she is pained that we cannot afford the costs, and what is even more painful is that even spending that money may not save Xiaoxiao’s life.” All the same, him and the P2P company in the background have collected more than two million Yuan in donations.

Purely from the perspective of charity, Luo Er’s private life should have no bearing on his eligibility to receive donations; however, his daughter’s condition and treatment costs were the impetus for people to donate, and Luo Er’s actions amount to deceit. Even if he was not liable under the Charity Law because his acts were committed in a personal capacity, he is worthy of condemnation on a moral level. As for the P2P company, which did not have the right to make donations, its violation of the Charity Act amounts to fraud.

A diversity of opinions surrounds this issue. There are those who criticise the flippancy with which posts are shared, and the inflated sense of righteousness of the donors and their use of money to show support, and feel that they deserve to be deceived. However, there is a more universal and pertinent issue that bears considering: whether online requests for fundraising are trustworthy, and how we are to demonstrate our support for charitable causes online.

The benefits of using the internet as a medium for fundraising do not need further elaboration. It gives the disadvantaged a voice by providing them with a platform to express themselves, and is an effective way of raising funds over a short period of time. It has helped a lot of people, but it is a double-edged sword, given that there are too many issues with fundraising activities online.

The first issue is that philanthropy is a specialist area which requires consideration of the validity of fundraising requests, and the allocation and the utilisation of funds. In addition, given that the sources of funds are limited, the question also arises as to who is more deserving of such aid.

However, the current online fundraising environment lacks any of these systems and processes. Stories are given veracity and shared freely on the back of a few photographs, a few emotional sentences, and a few endorsements from friends. In the Luo Yi Xiao incident, no details were ever released of the child’s diagnosis, condition, family background, and yet the fundraising post was shared thousands of times and received thousands of donations. Similar incidents, like the “Big V Tong Yao” fraud and the incident where an individual passed himself off as the son of a fireman who sacrificed his life in Tianjin, bear testament to the difficulty in ascertaining the truth of what is posted and the lack of regulations on the internet.

It may also have escaped our attention that emotions are easily fanned online. Our perception of reality and emotions are shaped by the media. The protection afforded by virtual reality means that triggers for emotions – whether they be sympathy, concern, being moved, anger, anxiety, or violence – are lower than in real life. This can be exploited by crooks to their own advantage. A few sensational articles then suffice to fan the feelings of righteousness of many netizens.

In short, the drawback of online donation-raising and help-seeking is that it has not been standardized and the public is not discerning enough, therefore there is a high possibility of deception. Observer of the charity sector Zhang Tianpan summarizes things like this: “(all the cases of fraudulent fundraising on the internet) stimulate the emotions of the public and then generate donations and public attention. People do not try to identify the authenticity of the information, in fact they do not even think about it. To deal with this problem, he advocates that “we should let charity achieve the maximization of public interest instead of allowing the person who can tell the best story to enjoy all the benefits”. He also advocates that donations should be made through professional charitable organizations, so that they can be used in the most regularized way possible, and more people can receive the benefits.

The development of Chinese charitable organizations however is currently still in the startup stage. The regional distribution is not balanced and the ability of organizations is still limited. A great number of people need help, but they are unable to find a way to receive help from others. In this case, platforms like “Easy Fundraising” can be an effective supplement, with their functions to offer assistance for fundraising and personal help-seeking.

The problem is how to achieve the standardization of the charity sector and how to prevent people’s kindness from being abused. The article “how much love can maliciously be squeezed out like this?”, published on the official Wechat account of Southern Weekly, provides some possible ways to address the existing problems. For example, help-seekers could be duty-bound to publicize their own income and properties, and also those of their children if they have alimony obligations, and deceivers would be punished; they could also publicize their hospital records and related certificates and provide ways to verify them, in order to let everyone easily ascertain the information’s authenticity; besides, there should be a best treatment plan and estimated medical expenses should be assessed by third-party professionals. We also hope that the Charity Law can address these issues.

In a word, we truly hope the child Luo Yixiao can be well and healthy. And we also hope that this event can push the public to discuss and solve the problems related to online fundraising and help-seeking, so that people’s kindness will not be taken advantage of, social trust and resources will not be overdrawn and more and more people who genuinely need help can enjoy other’s friendship and cooperation.

Note: in this discussion, many people are confused about the differences between personal fundraising and personal help-seeking1. In a nutshell, personal fundraising has got to be “beneficial to others”, meaning people other than the help seeker and their close relatives, while personal help-seeking is “beneficial to oneself”, in other words only to the help seeker or their close relatives. The Charity Law allows personal help-seeking but forbids personal fundraising. In this case, the behaviour on Luo Er’s Wechat account was personal help-seeking, which is legal. However, the P2P company had no qualifications to raise funds. This was a breach of the Charity Law. Furthermore, both of them stretched the facts about the treatment’s expenses and covered the truth regarding reimbursements. As a result, their behaviour was very likely to constitute fraud.

 

1The terms used in Chinese are 个人募捐 and 个人求助

2016年11月30日,一篇名为《罗一笑,你给我站住》的文章在微信朋友圈里狂被转发。(微信页面截图)

此次新闻反转,互联网各种声音都有,讨论新闻转发,批评网友浮躁的有之;批评网友圣母病,通过秀爱心刷存在感,被骗也实属活该的有之……但拨开这些纷纷扰扰,此次风波留下的一个具有普遍性和现实意义的话题是:互联网上的募捐和求助到底靠不靠谱?我们该如何在互联网上献爱心?

“知道”(nz_zhidao)告诉你,“罗尔”事件背后的深思。

昨日一天之内,“罗一笑”三次刷屏。

朋友圈先是大批人转载了《罗一笑,你给我站住》。说是深圳本土作家罗尔的5岁多爱女罗一笑,被检查出患白血病,住进了深圳市儿童医院。医疗费每天1万至3万元。父亲心急如焚,但他没有选择公益捐款,而是选择“卖文”,大家每转发一次,小铜人公司向罗尔定向捐赠1元;保底捐赠两万元,上限50万元。

但短短几个小时之后就出现了反转,大量质疑罗尔帖子的截图密集出现在朋友圈,这些截图主要说明了四个方面信息:

一,罗尔的婚史和私生活,因涉嫌隐私和真假问题,此处从略;

二,罗尔家庭条件良好,他之前在公号的文章里写道其在深圳东莞有三套房、两辆车,还有一家前途无量的公司,其家庭经济条件优渥;

三,罗尔在求助文章里写道,女儿每天治疗医疗费用要上万元,家里负担不起,但网友贴出的信息显示,罗一笑治疗费用近80%都可报销,自费部分被夸大;

四,罗尔此次行为背后有一家P2P公司在搞营销。

正当罗尔成为千夫所指之时,他现身接受媒体的公开采访,回应几点质疑,反转新闻再次出现转变:

一,针对三套房的说法,他说2001年以20万元全款在深圳购入了第一套房产,之后分别在东莞购入了一套酒店式公寓和长平一套三房两厅80平洋房,两套房子总价值100万,银行贷款40万,每月月供5000元。目前,这两套房子没有房产证,无法交易。全家仅有一台2007年以10万购入的别克车。自己没有开设公司,2016年担任主编的《女报·故事》停刊后,自己只有每月4000元工资收入,妻子是全职家庭主妇,全家没有其他收入来源。之前网上的文章属于“小说”。

二,针对女儿治疗费用,据深圳儿童医院的通报,罗一笑三次住院的医疗费用是20万出头,罗尔至今自费部分承担了近4万,其余均为医保报销。

三,至于营销,罗尔说该P2P公司的管理者与他是朋友,他不想直接接受朋友的现金资助才接受了这种募捐方式,至于营销炒作他并不懂。

孰是孰非仍可能反转,但确定无疑的是,除了罗一笑不幸患了白血病是事实外,罗尔在文章的一些论述,比如“重症室的费用,每天上万块,她悲痛我们花不起这个钱,更悲痛我们花了这个钱也可能救不了笑笑的命”,造假无疑,但他及背后P2P公司却因此募捐了两百多万元。

单从慈善角度看,罗尔的私人生活如何,与其是否能接受捐助并无干系,但关于女儿的病情和治疗费用,则是此次求助和募捐的核心,罗尔的做法已经涉嫌欺骗。即便他的做法因属于“个人求助”可以免受《慈善法》处罚,但却也应该承担道德上的谴责。至于其背后的P2P公司,不仅没有募捐资格,违反了《慈善法》规定,甚至已涉嫌诈骗。

(新华社/图)

针对此次新闻反转,互联网各种声音都有,讨论新闻转发,批评网友浮躁的有之;批评网友圣母病,通过秀爱心刷存在感,被骗也实属活该的有之……但拨开这些纷纷扰扰,此次风波留下的一个具有普遍性和现实意义的话题是:互联网上的募捐和求助到底靠不靠谱?我们该如何在互联网上献爱心?

互联网募捐和求助的正面意义不必赘述,它让更多不幸的人能够发声,也能够在很短的时间内汇集爱心,的确帮助了许多人。但就像一把双刃剑,互联网募捐和求助也同样存在着太多盲点。

首要的是,慈善其实是一项非常专业的工作,涉及到对受捐人信息的核实、慈善资金的流向和使用的审核,也因为慈善资源是有限,这还牵涉到一个分配排序问题。

但目前互联网募捐和求助项目都缺乏这些专业步骤,几张照片、几句悲情的文字、几个朋友背书,轻易就能被广泛传播。比如罗一笑事件,从始至终我们没有看到孩子的诊断书、病情、家庭经济情况的描述,但它收获了百万量级的转发和几十万人次的捐赠。再联想到之前的知乎大V“童瑶”诈捐事件,广西网友杜撰自己的父亲是在天津牺牲的消防员的骗捐,“狗嘴救人”谎言的骗捐……这些骗捐、诈捐事件,共同指向的是互联网募捐和求助审核的缺失与严重的不规范。

另一方面,人们可能也没有注意到,互联网上的自己,情绪上更容易受到鼓动。媒介深刻地塑造着使用者的思维方式和情感方式,在互联网上,因受到虚拟感的掩护,人们的种种情绪——无论是同情、关心、感动,还是愤怒、急躁、暴戾,触发门槛都比现实生活中更低。这种浮躁的情绪很容易被骗子所利用,三下五除二杜撰几篇煽情文章,就能够调动无数网友的道德感和正义冲动。尤其在朋友圈这种封闭的熟人传播体系中,在一些能够体现个人爱心和形象的转发行为中,会形成一种“自我感动”的刻奇效应,也会给个体带来一种“你转了我也不得不转”的压迫感。在多种效应的共同作用下,许多信息不详、漏洞不少的求助信息,在朋友圈的接力式转发中成为“爆款文”。

简而言之,互联网募捐和求助的缺陷在于,它不够规范,人们不够理性,存在着太大的欺骗空间。公益观察家张天潘如此总结:(互联网骗捐、诈捐事件都是)“触发了公众的情感,然后动情之下促成捐助和关注,却没有去辨别信息的真伪,同时也不会去思考。”就此困境,张天潘如此倡导,“让公益真正地实现公益利益最大化,而不是成为某个有故事、会讲故事人的资源独享”,公益捐赠还是要通过专业的公益组织,这样可以最大化地实现善款的规范使用,使更多受助者受益。

但考虑到现阶段中国公益组织发展仍处于起步阶段,地区分布不平衡,组织能力有限,太多需要帮助的人有时也是求助无门,这时轻松筹等平台上的募捐以及其他形式的个人求助,则是一种非常有效的补充。

问题就在于如何规范化,如何避免人们的善意被利用。南方周末微信刊出的《有多少爱心可以这样被恶意榨取?》,就可能存在的欺骗空间提出了对策,比如“在网上公开募捐(求助)者,有义务公布自己及有赡养义务的子女的财产收入情况,欺诈者应该受到惩罚;有义务出具正规医院的病历及相关证明,并提供核实渠道,让任何人都能轻松核实情况;应该有第三方专业人士评估推荐最佳的治疗方案,并估算治疗费用”。而这些,我们也希望《慈善法》能够以法定的方式确定下来。

总之,我们祈愿罗一笑能够平安健康,也希望此次风波也能够推动互联网募捐和求助等相关未解议题的讨论和解决,让爱心不被欺骗,让社会信任和资源不被透支,让更多真正需要帮助的人能够得到友爱与互助。

注:在此次讨论中,许多人混淆了个人募捐和个人求助的区别。

简单来说,个人募捐是“利他”,为他人募捐,这个他人主要指本人及近亲属以外的人;而个人求助是“利己”,为了救助本人或者近亲属在网络上发布求助信息。《慈善法》允许个人求助,禁止个人募捐。从这个判定上看,罗尔公众号上的行为属于个人求助,而P2P公司并没有募捐资格,违法了《慈善法》规定。并且二者夸大医疗费用、掩盖报销真相等,恐怕也涉嫌诈骗。

Translated by Mark Lee and Huang Jie

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