Caixin has a great expose of China’s secondary market in censorship, in which ‘Black PR’ companies offer to scrub unfavourable references to individuals, corporates and officials through back-channel access to the information management structure.
Yage's clients ranged from small, private companies to heavyweights such as China Mobile and FAW-Volkswagen, the joint venture set up by German carmaker Volkswagen and Chinese counterpart First Automobile Works. Foreign concerns, including Pizza Hut and the Japanese restaurant chain Yoshinoya, also hired Yage.
But Yage's best clients were local government officials... They were generally eager to pay for his help with building a positive image and a clean record on the Internet.
A former Yage staff member said about 60 percent of the company's profits came from business with officials from second- and third-tier cities. These clients included many police chiefs.
As part of Gu's strategy, dozens of Yage staffers spent the workday surfing the Internet in search of negative news, comments and postings about government officials. Any official whose reputation seemed to be threatened would be contacted and offered Yage's services as soon as negative information surfaced online.
If you think this is starting to edge into blackmail territory, then you’re bang on:
Hu's fall followed a three-year effort at Qianlong to improve the company's bottom line by allowing Yage to carry out public relations projects.
These projects involved public relations companies that would produce or re-post pieces that smeared companies or at least threatened their reputations, have them posted on Qianlong, and later have the pieces removed after the targeted company paid a fee.
It’s the old Town Topics scam described by Mencken, among others, that operated in New York around the turn of the 19th Century; except that in this case the delivery mechanism was a government operated news portal. Smooth.