China’s State Internet Information Office, established in May, has flexed its young muscles and closed down several thousand websites for engaging in illegal public relations deals. The authorities’ assault on the manipulation of public opinion online has raised eyebrows, not least at China Real Time Report:
The websites involved “illegal groups which claimed to specialize in deleting online news stories and posts with negative influences or hiring other netizens to spread certain kinds of information or opinions on the Internet” for deals totaling more than 1.13 million yuan ($177,000). The China Daily story didn’t provide details of specific public relations deals.
The crackdown was apparently sparked by allegations last year that dairy company Mengniu was the source of rumors that its competitors products caused premature sexual development in children. Mengniu later said the action was taken by one of its employees without knowledge of the company, and apologized for its effect on consumers ….
Internet users commenting on the latest crackdown criticized the government for using the same tactics as the companies it had targeted. “Please shut down Baidu first, then slap your own face after that door is shut,” quipped a user on Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo writing under the name Ostaryr. Another Weibo user, Yan Haitao, said, “Oh, then does this mean the Central Propaganda Office should be closed?”
Hypocrisy aside, many observers regard the closures as a superficial measure, and are sceptical about their likely effectiveness. Bill Bishop, for example, writes at DigiCha that “online PR in China is a swamp, so any moves to drain it are welcome. But the shuttered websites are not the real problem.”
China Shutters 6,600 Websites for Manipulating Information Online – China Real Time Report – WSJ
China Closes 6600 Websites For Illegal Online PR Deals, Will Not Change Anything – DigiCha