SHANGHAI - A Chinese businessman has confessed to posting false information online and deleting critical microblog posts on behalf of corporate clients during a trial in Beijing, the official Xinhua news service reported on Friday, as a government crackdown on social media gathers speed.
According to the report, Yang Xiuyu, owner of media marketing company Erma, confessed to paying staff to post false information and delete critical online posts about clients in exchange for over 530,000 yuan (S$107,180) between 2008 and 2013.
He also confessed to making scandalous online content to advertise products and promote clients, including a video that purportedly showed a monk cavorting with two women which became an online sensation.
Many Chinese companies have proven willing to pay to manipulate the media to protect their reputations and to slander competitors, a business opportunity that has been exploited both by media companies, individual reporters and by entrepreneurs like Yang.
Chinese financial regulators have also prosecuted micro- bloggers who have spread false rumours about companies online in order to damage their stock prices temporarily, creating buying opportunities.
The Chinese government itself deletes online posts it deems overly critical, blocks the accounts of political dissidents, and hires microbloggers to post content favourable to government policies.
The crackdown on social media, which has included the requirement that users use their real names to register public accounts on instant messaging tools and the detention of hundreds of outspoken microbloggers, has had a chilling effect both on political discourse and on user registrations at messaging app companies.
Public account users must sign an agreement with the service provider when they register, promising "to comply with the law, the socialist system, the national interest, citizens' legal rights, public order, social moral customs, and authenticity of information".