Here’s a new lucrative, money making profession that could be creating a few millionaires across the globe over the next few years. It goes under various names like internet scrubbers, online reputation management or image repair – and firms are making lots of money especially in China.
Firms and wealthy individuals are paying specialists to ensure that any mentions that appear online are all positive and that any negative comments are removed from view. In China one of the biggest firms of this sort are called Yage Times and are fronted by Gu Genda a 30 year old entrepreneur from Beijing.
In China the number of firms like this are growing. They work something like this, a big company or person may be receiving bad publicity online – perhaps a rumor or potential scandal is being talked about online. Of course this is perfectly natural but in a very connected online society like China this can have a huge impact on a company or individual’s reputation.
So they hire someone like Yage Times to ensure that negative content and discussions are removed or at least fade from view rapidly. This can be very complicated and extremely costly but many firms are willing to pay the price.
Unfortunately it’s not always easy to do this. There are of course ways to make online pages and posts slowly disappear from view by affecting their ranking in the search engines. But if a negative story appears on a popular and high ranking news site or block it’s not going to fade away easily – at least not until it’s been viewed by millions of people.
So what can you do? Well apparently the initial attempts to remove unwanted stories involves bribing the publishers to remove or modify the items. For bigger sites this wouldn’t always work so Yage Times consultants would then forge Government documents enforcing the removal of specific content from their site.
As the Chinese government actively censor huge sections of the web this would rarely come as a big surprise. In fact many Chinese people routinely connect via a US or UK IP address to avoid these filters. It’s another huge growth area ironically because of all the restrictions that have been put in place by the Chinese authorities – here’s one that’s extremely popular – best VPN software.
These tactics have ensured some big profits for companies like these, but not surprisingly the Chinese Government were not impressed – Gu Genda and about 10 others are now in custody awaiting trial for various charges including bribery.
Censorship of the internet is rife in China, but it seems the state would rather keep the monopoly. The story was raised by a Chinese magazine called Caixin.
It is not without irony that many comments and responses to the Caixin story have been deleted or censored shortly after publication!