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At least 33 people have died and more than a million have been displaced following devastating floods in China’s central Henan province. Tech platforms like Tencent Docs and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have become sources of crowsourced information for people seeking help. Photo: AFP

Henan floods: how Big Tech is helping victims with crowdsourced docs and short videos

  • A viral spreadsheet on Tencent Docs was updated more than 20,000 times in 24 hours with information for victims, such as where to seek refuge
  • Short-video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou have also become sources of information for people seeking help as other tech giants offer their own aid
Chinese technology platforms are turning into a powerful lifeline for people seeking help in flood-battered central Henan province, where at least 33 people are confirmed dead and 1.2 million people have been displaced as a result of the region’s torrential rainfall.

One of the platforms gaining the most attention is Tencent Docs, the social media giant’s answer to Google Docs, which is blocked in China. A spreadsheet on the platform created by a user named Manto on Tuesday night had gone viral by the following day, becoming a destination for crowdsourced information about people who need help and where they can seek it.

By Wednesday night, the spreadsheet had been viewed more than 2.5 million times, with more than 20,000 edits, according to Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, which said it had become the most-viewed Tencent Docs file ever. More than 1,800 similar documents had also been created by that evening using rescue information templates from the Tencent Docs team, the company said.

China’s Big Tech rush to support flood relief in central China

Manto’s spreadsheet, which was not created from a template, started out as a simple list of contact information for people who had been trapped by heavy rainfall and were calling for help. Other volunteer users quickly joined to help verify the information in the spreadsheet and then updated it with the contact information of rescue teams.

As more volunteers contributed, the spreadsheet became populated with even more helpful information: a list of safe havens where victims could seek refuge, guidelines for pregnant women about to give birth, locations where people could charge their smartphones, and where to get psychological counselling.

Once victims received help and were transferred to a safe location, their information was crossed out. Collaborators also created an English tab within the spreadsheet for people who do not speak Chinese.

Other internet platforms have also been quick to offer their own solutions to help users provide information related to the flood.


Heroes emerge amid devastating China floods

Heroes emerge amid devastating China floods
Beijing-based ByteDance started channels to help victims on its short video app Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, where users can submit posts and videos asking for help.

The Douyin help channel asks users to submit information such as name, contact information, location and the type of help they need. Users can upload videos and photos, as well.

Dahe Daily, a state-owned newspaper in Henan capital Zhengzhou, started an ongoing live-streaming session on the platform showing the progress of the rescue process.

Similarly, Kuaishou, the country’s second-largest short-video platform, opened its own channels that offer information on how to get help, rescue efforts, the latest news and fact checking.

Both Douyin and Kuaishou include a variety of content with the latest updates about the flooded areas, including informative videos about where to get food and clean drinking water.

Apple supplier Foxconn puts workers on leave amid Zhengzhou flooding

Food delivery giant Meituan is also helping out. Employees at its 20,000 community group buying locations in Zhengzhou have been tasked with offering help to victims, the company said on Wednesday. People with elderly family members living alone were encouraged to contact the head of the company’s nearest community group buying station.

Meituan has also suspended charges for its power bank sharing stations, allowing users to pick up a power bank for free to charge their devices. The company pledged to subsidise hotels listed on its platform that are offering help to victims, as well.

Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, currently undergoing a government cybersecurity investigation, said it had paused normal services in Zhengzhou to protect the safety of its users and drivers. The company said it organised a rescue motorcade under the dispatch of the local rescue department.

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The rush to help from China’s Big Tech companies comes as the sector is under tight scrutiny by both Beijing and society at large. Tech firms have been accused of putting profits before social responsibility.

Their relief efforts include cash donations, with China’s largest tech companies, including Tencent and e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, announcing donations amounting to nearly 1 billion yuan (US$154.4 million).

Individually, South China Morning Post owner Alibaba announced a 100 million yuan donation. Its fintech affiliate Ant Group also said it would give 100 million yuan to the province, and the philanthropic foundation of both companies’ founder Jack Ma pledged 50 million yuan.

Tencent, ByteDance, Meituan and discount e-commerce company Pinduoduo also said they were each giving 100 million yuan to relief efforts, according to separate company statements on Wednesday.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tech firms crowdsource flood aid