For-Profit Censorship in China

China’s media censorship system is frequently in the headlines, be it for its “pun ban” or its censorship of Empress Wu Zetian’s breasts. Last year, China was rocked by a series of potentially pretty damaging scandals regarding for-profit censorship. The basic concept: Officials working at China’s online censorship offices or websites implementing censorship orders take money from companies, or potentially anybody, in return for ensuring that negative coverage is removed. A few days ago, the website of the People’s Daily ran an article on “ten representative cases” of such extortion and for-profit censorship.

The potentially most damaging case is that of Gao Jianyun, a former CCP official with the rank of vice bureau head, working for the Cyberspace Administration and earlier its predecessor, the Fifth Office of the State Council Information Office. According to the People’s Daily article, Gao “used his position to provide assistance” to an unnamed company or companies to delete negative coverage online.

It’s unclear how widespread the phenomenon really is, but it’s a safe guess to say that there are many more cases than those that have officially come to light. In any case, the existing censorship system certainly provides a very convenient infrastructure for companies and anybody else considering how to most effectively manage their reputation online.

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