Corrupt Officials Turn to ‘Black’ PR

The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore reports on China’s thriving web-scrubbing industry, which offers to polish the online reputations of companies, celebrities and especially officials.

“We recently helped the head of a police bureau in Jieyang, Guangdong, delete a set of stories from the web, but I cannot tell you exactly who it was,” said a representative of one black PR firm that sells its services on Taobao, an online marketplace, under the title Geshigoufang.

“We can clean your name from blogs, forums, news websites, Weibo [China’s version of Twitter], everything,” he added. “It costs 13,000 yuan (£1,200) to have a story deleted from the People’s Daily website or from Xinhua,” he added.

“It is a bit more expensive because those are government websites. Also for the People’s Daily you have to show us the webpage you want to disappear and we have to ask the editors there whether it is too risky to delete,” he said.

[…] An editor at Xinhua, the state news agency, said she had heard of the practice but that it was “ethically bad” and “technically very difficult” to erase stories from Xinhua and that she had never heard of anyone doing such a thing. [Source]

‘Black PR’ firm Yage Time was previously the subject of an in-depth article at Caixin (via CDT), which detailed its pioneering business model of publishing negative content about companies and then soliciting payment to have it removed.

“Online reputation management” is also used by celebrities, companies and private individuals in the West, but these services focus—at least publicly—on burying unfavorable search results. Their Chinese counterparts’ tactics for uprooting negative content at the source, Moore writes, occasionally include sending out fake government censorship notices. Bribery is more common, however: three former Baidu employees were arrested last summer after being fired for carrying out paid deletions.

Other weapons in the ambitious official’s arsenal include surveillance devices and feng shui.