Thursday, February 28, 2013

Caixin and Weibos Block Access to Report on Private/Public Cooperation in Internet Censorship

At 11:41 am on February 18, 2013, the state-sponsored Caixin Magazine posted the following on its verified Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo accounts:
[Exclusive Report: The Post Deletion Business] Caixin reporters have discovered that "post deletion" has long-since moved beyond the crude models of earlier years, becoming inter-linked grey industry where senior levels in public relations companies and portal web sites, as well as some overseeing officials, work hand-in-hand. It costs thousands to delete a negative news article, hundreds of thousands in professional fees to get a key word blocked, and those asking to get posts deleted range from users and companies to government officials.
This screenshot shows that, within hours of these posts appearing Sina Weibo began censoring searches for "The post deletion business." (删帖生意)

 These screenshots were taken on February 18 (left) and 19 (right), and show that Caixin's posts were deleted the same night.

Caixin's Weibo posts included a link to this URL -, which provides a preview of the article for non-subscribers. The preview reads:
On a Monday morning in mid-July 2012, three police buses drove into one of Sanlintun Sohu's flourishing merchant centers, and over 100 policemen stormed into the offices of Xinxun Tianxia Advertising (hereafter Xinxun Media) and Yage Times Advertising Ltd. (hereafter Yage Times), with some of the police controlling the employees and the others confisicating the offices' computers and locking up all of the employees' QQ chat records. Afterwards, 100 employees at the scene (including maintenance and cleaning crews) were loaded on the busses and by around 3:00 were taken to the Hadian district police station to give statements.
Although the preview remained available and reports indicate that subscribers could still access the full report, this screenshot, taken on the evening of February 18, shows that, within hours the publicly-available version posted here - - had been deleted and visitors to that URL were being re-directed to Caixin's home page.
Caixin also published an English language version of the article here - That version, however, omitted almost every reference to the role of government officials in funding and enabling the post deletion business.

Here are some translated excerpts from the original Chinese language article.
Many business managers do not know what what their day-to-day work is -- illegally deleting posts. According to Article 164 of China's Criminal Law, bribing web site employees is considered "bribing a non-government employee." As for bribing government employees at Internet management offices and Internet oversight offices, that is considered the "crime of bribery" under the provisions of Article 389. In various situations it is also considered the "crime of extortion." Coordinating web sites to actively publish negative information and finding enterprises to contact the businesses also falls under this category of crime.
The legal representative of Xinxun Media is Gu Wenxi, and the legal representative of Yage Times is Ai Nuo, and the actual behind-the-scenes control is exercised by Yage Times General Manger Gu Dengda. Gu Wenxi is Gu Dengda's father, and Ai Nuo is Gu Dengda's wife. Xinxun Media's business has nothing to do with post deletion, but Yage Times is famous within the industry as "post deletion company," and both companies' offices are located in a 600 ping location in Sanlitun Soho. Since the second half of 2006 Yage Times is believed to have gotten into the business of post deletion with over 100 employees. 
Most employees who were present [during the raid] were allowed to leave following questioning, but Yage Times General Manager Gu Gengda, his brother Gu Tengfei, and finance manager Ai Nuo continued to be investigated, and the three continue to be detained in jail. 
This was only the beginning. As the investigation of Yage Times deepens, the list of those implicated continues to grow, with employees of many web sites being arresting or investigated. Police officers at the Beijing Public Security Internet Oversight Office have also been arrested.
. . . .
Most public relations companies would buy editors and mid-to-high level administrative employees and officials at oversight agencies to complete their deletion mission. In order to increase profits some business managers wouldn't flinch at taking significant risks, including creating government and oversight agency chops and forged notices demanding web sites delete posts. Even more extreme, public relations companies would go so far as to manufacture their own clients, and would use vendors' web sites to posts negative information about companies until the companies would pay to get them deleted. This business has become a kind of blackmail, and companies suffered miserably. 
For some time now the post deletion business has remained in the shadows, overseen by no one, and has been a source of no small amount of profit for public relations companies. Among these were companies like Yage Times, whose primary business model was post deletion, as well as many famous public relations companies who took up related business, taking fees directly or indirectly. According to a former high level employee at Yage Times, in 2011 alone Yage Times' gross profits exceeded 50 million yuan, with over half of its income coming from deleting posts for government officials from second and third tier cities. 
. . . .
According to a Yage Times employee, over 60% of the companies profits came from "officials in second and third tier cities, with most being police officers and county leaders." Most of enterprise clients found the service on their own, but employees would need to do some digging to get individual clients. As soon as any negative information about a local official appeared, the employee would use measures such as directory information to come up with ways to find the people to contact about getting the post deleted. 
As far as the employees were concerned, as compared to enterprise clients, finding officials who wanted posts deleted was "it seemed everyone you asked willing," especially during the period immediately before and after the  "two meetings" [the National People's Congress and China People's Political Consultative Conference held every March in Beijing]. Companies were subject to cost restrictions, and would decide whether or not to shell out for post deletion based on their assessment of influence of the negative news. Out of concern for their careers, government officials would get posts deleted regardless of price, and Gu Tengda once told the company's salespeople during an internal instruction session: "don't take less than 500,000 yuan per." 
At Yage Times, only about a dozen senior employees and a very small number of senior relations employees were qualified to accept government official post deletion jobs. Their salaries were far higher than other employees, easily pulling in 200,000 to 500,000 yuan a month, with large desks and Apple computers in their office and expensing 100 yuan lunches at a famous Taiwanese restaurant in Sanlitun.
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With respect to news that has been broadly reposted, the first order of business is to delete the originating web site. Yage Times employees recall one time when they landed a big job, where a Shenzhen private recruiting company was exposed as a pyramid scheme, adn the news was reposted on hundreds of web sites and forums including People's Daily and Xinhua. That company had bid 1,000,000 yuan for getting all posts deleted. Ten Yage Times employees took on the task and at first expended significant effort getting the original negative news "public relationized." Afterwards they went to each and every other site that had reposted the news and demanded it be deleted. It took about two months to complete the job, at a cost of only 10,000 yuan. Currently most major domestic news web site and news reposting web sites and web portals and finance web sites have a similar rule: as long as the relevant company or public relations firm can provide formal letter by fax proving that the web site where the story originated (whether paper media or web site) has stated that it has already revised it or deleted it, they will then unconditionally automatically comply and handle the reposted content in the same way.
. . . .
It is relatively easy to handle content posted on forums and PostBar, but the cost of handling news articles posted on web portals is relatively high. One "moderator" gave 4,000 yuan the price in response to request to delete a news linked from Sina's Finance Channel. 
However, this "moderator" made it clear to this reporter that, in the past he could go through Baidu keyword blocking to remove the influence of negative, but now owing to connections, "No one in the world can achieve that."
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Every Friday, senior employees from the major web sites (chief auditor and above) have to go to the Internet management office for a meeting. All major web sites have established public sentiment oversight departments and government relations departments to liaison with Internet oversight agencies. One web site went so far as to set up a police affairs office to be able to handle visits by oversight officials at any time. These orders are frequently used by public relations firms with special connections to smuggle in their own contraband. One person inside Yage Times gave an example: an official in the Shaanxi Land Resources Bureau once sought out a public relations firm to request the deletion of news showing photos of him wearing an expensive watch, and afterwards the public relations firm employed its special relationships to achieve the deletion goal. 
新讯传媒法人代表为顾文喜,雅歌时代的法人代表为艾娜,背后实际控制人均为雅歌时代的总经理顾腾达,顾文喜是顾腾达的父亲,艾娜为顾腾达之妻。新讯传媒的业务与删帖无关,但雅歌时代是业内有名的“删帖公司”,两家公司都在三里屯SOHO 600余平方米的办公室办公。雅歌时代从2006年下半年涉足删帖业务,员工上百人。
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