A Chinese Firm That Used Bogus Social Media Accounts to Spread Rumors and Lies About Businesses (Paid For By Competitors) Has Been Shut Down
An August 30th, 2013 Tech In Asia report peeks behind the curtain of "black PR" in China.
The problem of "deceptive opinion spam" - reviews and online feedback that are purchased or manipulated by unscrupulous posters - is not just a Chinese phenomenon. In 2011 Cornell University researchers published a study that examined the online world of "ﬁctitious opinions that have been deliberately written to sound authentic, in order to deceive the reader." That study acknowledged the difficulty of detecting deceptive posts. And the threat to legitimate businesses from opinion spam seems only seems to have grown in the last couple of years.
As Tech In Asia reports, the scale of the Chinese operation that was recently busted in the provincial capital of Wuhan (an information technologies hub in China) is unprecedented: "While it was operational, the firm — which was called Shui Jun Shi Wan — [had "220 million followers" and] billed itself as China’s largest internet promotions company."
Apparently Shui Jun Shi Wan offered to (discretely?) artificially pump up the online reviews for a business - or, even worse, sully the reputation of a competitor's business - by manipulating the online review system.
The practice of creating fake online reviews to build up your own or to ruin a competitor's business is known as "black PR." But it should be noted that it isn't just PR that has been corrupted. Shui Jun Shi Wan wouldn't have existed without numerous ethically-challenged businesses that were willing to pay for bogus opinions generated from hundreds (thousands?) of fake internet accounts.
Shui Jun Shi Wan is apparently history now: "Wuhan police shut it down and arrested 27 suspects after a three-month investigation sparked by a tip they received back in May." But if there is one large company like Shui Jun Shi Wan, with reported profits in excess of 1 million RMB ($US 164,000), isn't it safe to assume there are others?
Thanks to Tan Siok Siok for the link.
UPDATE September 28th, 2013 On Sept. 23, 2013 New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that officials had filed criminal charges 19 companies (engaged in using fake reviews to promote businesses) after a year-long undercover investigation.