March 15, World Consumer Rights Day, is something of a big deal in China. Among other things, state broadcast conglomerate CCTV generally uses it as an excuse to drag skeletons out of the closets of a variety of Chinese businesses, those reports can easily turn into full-blown national scandals, especially when fueled by internet public opinion. So say you’re a business with a record of, ahem, questionable customer service practices. How can you deal with the fallout from a negative Consumer Rights Day report? Well, one way is to pay specialists to scour the internet for posts about the scandal on popular sites and, by hook or crook, get those posts deleted.
The price can vary depending on what sort of thing you want deleted. One deletion company, for example, charges 3000-3800 RMB ($476-603) to remove a post on a popular portal website. Deletion from smaller local portals starts at 1500 RMB ($238). Deletion of a post from a media organization’s official site, or from a popular BBS forum runs 3800 RMB ($603). Big companies can even pay for yearly internet monitoring and real-time deletion of negative news posts year-round, although that sort of service starts at 100,000 RMB ($15,873) and often costs even more. There are cheaper options, though: getting a post deleted from a small BBS forum costs just 100 RMB ($15.87).
These companies are not difficult to find. A simple Baidu search for “professional post deletion” turns up tons of companies openly advertising post deletion services. Don’t take our word for it; these links are all examples.
It’s not a scam, either. A reporter from the Fazhi Evening News found that complaint posts about electronics companies by several different netizens really had been deleted, sometimes multiple times across a variety of platforms. And when the reporter contacted post deletion companies posing as a buyer, they were told that it generally only took a day or two to delete posts and that payment wasn’t required until after the post had been confirmed deleted by the buyer.
To further test, the reporter gave three different deletion companies — all go unnamed in the Fazhi Evening News report — a few negative stories about a fish restaurant to delete from major web portals. One of the companies responded that they couldn’t do it, as negative stories involving food safety were too difficult to delete. Another company wanted 3000 RMB for a post on one major portal and 1200 RMB for deleting the posts on smaller sites, but also said there was one story it couldn’t delete. The third deletion company was clearly the most professional, asserting that it could delete all of the posts and also warning the reporter that prices were up and there would be no haggling because of high demand around World Consumer Rights Day. This company was also clearly quite profitable, as the salesman the reporter talked to didn’t even seem concerned about making a sale: “Whether you want to [delete the posts] or not is fine, these days we’ve got too much work anyway.”
Although the report doesn’t go into too much detail on how, exactly, these posts are deleted, it does quote an insider who suggests it’s mostly based on guanxi — interpersonal relationships — rather than hacking skills. Through direct connections, PR companies, and sometimes web advertisers, these deletion companies are able to exert some pressure on websites, and the price for deletion can vary depending on the “level” of guanxi needed to pull off the deletion. It’s not specifically mentioned in the article, but I would be shocked if there weren’t also kickbacks to the webmasters who help these companies delete posts for their clients.
In any event, as World Consumer Rights Day approaches, it’s worth keeping in mind that for the right price, a company can get almost any negative report quickly wiped from the internet. As we start hearing about this year’s scandals, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the stories out there that we’re probably not hearing about thanks to post deletion companies.
[Fazhi Evening News via TechWeb]