By Cal Widdall
It turns out the Chinese government isn’t the only one feeling insecure about online criticism, with a number of public relations firms regularly charging private companies to remove negative comments from websites such as Weibo, QQ and Tudou. For as little as 1,000RMB you too can censor the population and avoid being disgraced nationwide for violating consumer rights!
The attention on yesterday’s ‘World Consumer Rights Day’ saw a number of unfair practices highlighted in the Chinese media, including this lucrative business of privatised censorship. Though the annual occasion may not have had any 5 kuai DVD sellers running for Shanghai’s non-existent hills, it apparently did at least have a temporary effect on China’s shady PR firms. In a fantastic example of irony, many periodically stopped offering the service due to concerns regarding the negative attention generated at this time of the year.
Zhou Wei, from Guangzhou, is the man behind the Pioneer Network website, one of the many professional post deletion sites you can find with a simple Baidu search. You can contact him if your melons are exploding or your eggs are bouncing and pesky buyers are whining about it online. From China Daily:
The word used most often on Zhou’s website is “delete”, in reference to contents on various websites, including video-sharing sites such as tudou.com, blogs and micro blogs, social networking sites and bulletin board systems.
“We can also handle micro blog messages on major portals such as Sina, QQ and 163.com. Removing one post and the responses to it costs about 1,000 yuan ($158). If there are enormous responses and followers, we charge more,” Zhou said.
Zhou spoke vaguely about people at various websites who work for him and are authorized to make deletions and postings, calling them “channels” of his company.
Over 1700 miles away, in Dalian, Liu Mingda runs a similar outfit.
“Usually, when I charge a client 2,000 yuan to delete one post, I give 1,700 yuan to the person I contacted to have it done,” Liu said, adding that this was only fair because his contacts at the websites take big risks of being caught by their supervisors.
Liu recommended a monthly subscription to his service, which usually costs more than 10,000 yuan. His team will see to the removal of all recurrent complaints and flood the Internet with positive messages about the company, which, in his words, dilute the negative information and occupy the first pages shown on search engines such as Baidu.
Liu said he has a lawyer ready to advise him. He stressed his company was cautious enough not to take orders that include unreliable information or medical disputes involving deaths, but he did not elaborate on how to verify the authenticity of information provided to him.
In an undercover investigation by The Fazhi Evening News, three professional post deletion companies were contacted regarding the removal of negative stories about a fish restaurant. Responses varied, with one unwilling to touch a food-related issue, another offering to delete all but one, and the last company offering to fully complete the task. Business was obviously booming too, “Whether you want to [delete the posts] or not is fine, these days we’ve got too much work anyway.”
Mao Taotao, a Sina public relations officer, has declined to comment on the possibility of removing posts on the company’s micro blog that criticize corporations.
These reports leave us with two important questions. First off, with the abundant supply of scandals constantly emerging in China, how many more are lurking beneath the murky depths of private censorship?
Secondly, and we’d really like to know this, who the hell needs an annual subscription to conceal all their dirty laundry?!