PR firms cash in on Web comment deletion

Updated: 2012-03-15 07:46

By Li Yao (China Daily)

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Companies manipulate posts that make corporate clients look bad

Online public relations companies have made a profitable business of erasing complaints and posting favorable comments on websites for their corporate clients, particularly as the griping picked up with the approach of World Consumer Rights Day on Thursday.

At no time of the year is the service more appreciated. Some companies, facing criticism and negative media exposure, are eager to buy silence as well as to avoid the attention of quality inspection authorities, trying to avoid being disgraced nationwide for violating consumer rights.

PR firms cash in on Web comment deletion

Zhou Wei from Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, is the person behind the PR Pioneer Network website. His service is available to clients nationwide. 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.

Acknowledging a price increase as March 15 approached, Zhou said that if the "channels" asked higher prices, he had to charge more.

Mao Taotao, a Sina public relations officer, declined to comment on the possibility of removing posts on the company's micro blog that criticize corporations.

In 2009, about 33 websites in China proposed that news portals, BBS, blogs and other websites should uphold their professional ethics, strengthen staff management and stand firmly against requests from online public relations companies to delete or post information.

However, the proposal obviously has not been fully implemented.

Liu Mingda, from Dalian, Liaoning province, highlights his core slogans in alarmingly big characters in bold and prominent colors on a website he maintains: post deletion and public relations.

Through his years of experience as a webmaster administering updates and overall structure he has come to know many fellow webmasters. He carefully nurtures cordial relationships with them, sending them gifts and giving them money when he needs certain contents to disappear or multiply on these website, as required by his clients.

"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.

Zheng Yannong, secretary-general of the China International Public Relations Association, called for stringent self-discipline from the public relations sector.

"Companies that seek positive publicity and removal of online criticism should all take a firm stance against unprofessional public relations activities and bear in mind that involvement in such handlings will hurt the reputation of their organizations," Zheng said.

Contact the writer at liyao@chinadaily.com.cn

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