Chinese police shut down army of Internet trolls paid to blitz websites and social media

By Zoe Low

Trolls were paid hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of yuan to delete posts.

Police in central China detained 30 members of a “water army” – paid internet trolls – who made a profit of US$4.3mil (RM17.9mil) by deleting negative posts about clients who included “well known listed companies”, Chinese media reported.

The case, which involves four public relations companies, is the largest of its kind in provincial history, Hubei Public Security Bureau shared.

China’s water army has flooded social media with positive posts about the government and attacked Beijing’s critics. Its activities also include manipulating information about private companies or deleting negative reviews of goods and services.

Authorities in the city of Jingzhou began investigating the case in May 2017 and discovered a family-owned operation led by a woman called Wu and her brother, who were arrested in Guangzhou in August this year.

Trolls were paid hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of yuan to delete posts, Hubei’s state-run daily Cnhubei said.

Wu fled to Japan to avoid arrest and from there instructed workers to cease operations and destroy their computers, Shanghai-based news portal reported. It did not explain why Wu returned to China.

Using information from confiscated computer hard drives, police discovered four public relations companies using Wu’s services, paying her a total of up to 20 million yuan to delete negative posts about their clients.

Eleven people from the companies were arrested, according to the public security bureau.

Companies often bribe staff at websites to delete negative reviews about them in China, state-run news agency Xinhua said in February. When bribes fail, some hire a water army to flood comments sections with comment and content such as pornography to trigger mass deletions.

The Chinese government intensified its crackdown on trolls following a cybersecurity law introduced in June last year. According to the Xinhua report, 200 suspects have been arrested and more than 5,000 spam accounts deleted. – South China Morning Post

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