Two Weibo users allegedly involved in "black PR" business in China were detained by the police this week for fabricating rumors and obtaining benefits illegally through their microblogging accounts. The arrests marked the commencement of the government's earlier pledge to crack down on online rumors.
Yang Xiuyu and Qin Zhihui, who each oversees a Web marketing company, were hauled in by the police which said the duo had deliberately spread rumors and defamed celebrities in a bid to generate profits, according to a Sina report Thursday. The authories added that both were paid by other companies to fabricate rumors on their Weibo accounts to damage the reputation of other competitors. To raise public awareness of their Weibo accounts, the two allegedly planned a series of events on the Internet to attract fans and public awareness.
In one incident following a July 23 high-speed railway accident in China in 2011, Yang and Qin published notes on their Weibo accounts claiming the Chinese government paid 200 million yuan (US$32.9 million) to a foreign passenger to settle the dispute. The message was shared over 12,000 times within an hour, triggering public discontent with the government, said the Sina report.
The pair also defamed celebrities, including Luo Yuan, who is a major-general with the People's Liberation Army and known known for making patriotic remarks. Yang and Qin called Luo a deserter during a war and that his family members were now living and working in the U.S. and Germany.
According to the police, Qin alone had fabricated over 3,000 unsubstantiated claims via his Weibo account.
Chinese law enforcers also vowed to investigate "opinion leaders" who helped the two microbloggers spread the rumors online. A number of well-known accounts on Weibo, with followers totaling in the hundreds of millions, had been actively sharing messages posted by the pair.
After the police crackdown, some Weibo users stepped out to say they had no connection with the two detained. Many others, including Kai-Fu Lee who is the former president of Google Greater China and has over 50 million followers on Weibo, deleted messages they had shared from Yang and Qin, according to a Sohu news report.
A NetEase report also noted that Weibo accounts deemed to be spreading rumors will be labeled "low credit".
Earlier this month, six Chinese Internet companies including Qianlong, Baidu, and Sina Weibo jointly launched a new website to monitor and debunk online rumors.