Police in China target PR firms in crackdown on illegal removal of online posts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 3:09am

Police in China shut down six public relations companies and detained dozens of suspects in a recent crackdown on businesses deleting online posts, state media reported on Thursday.

The case involving Beijing IWOM, one of the six companies, is believed to be the largest of its kind in China, with the money involved at over 10 million yuan, said the state-owned newspaper People’s Daily. Its has been shut down. However, according to its self-introduction material on another website, the company, founded in 2007, claimed itself the first professional content marketing services firm in China.

Headquartered in Beijing, IWOM has over 260 employees and has branch offices in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Baoding, Hebei Province. The company has strategic cooperative partnerships with more than 70 respected brands such as COFCO, Air China, China Ping An, China Merchant Bank, Haier, Water Cube, according to the material.

The newspaper said IWOM has signed contracts with nearly 50 large-scale and listed companies, with an annual income at over 70 million yuan.

The newspaper quoted Li Dong, deputy director of Beijing Public Security Bureau as saying that IWOM has helped its clients to delete negative information online by offering bribes to website editors and technicians through agents. The agents maintain good relationships with many website editors and technicians.

The company charged its clients hundreds to thousands of yuan for deleting online posts, while it paid 200-1000 yuan each to the agents who helped delete the posts. In the first nine months of this year, the company is said to have paid over 470,000 yuan to agents for deleting posts.

According to police, many employees at dozens of websites have taken part in the illegal businesses. Beijing police have detained dozens of suspects in a manhunt in 10 provinces, including 19 people who have been formally arrested, according to the newspaper.

The mainland’s top court and prosecutor issued a legal explanation in September to strengthen its regulation on online cases. The explanation specified that individuals and companies who offer illegal post-deleting services could be sued for the crime of illegal business operations.

Ironically, Chinese authorities have long been notorious for asking websites to delete various kinds of so-called “sensitive or harmful” information, which normally refers to information that dissatisfies the authority.

“Why don’t they arrest themselves [the officials]?” asked a user on Weibo.