–Government Departments to Curb Illegal Online “Public Relations” Practices
According to Xinhua News Agency, four government departments have planned to intensively curb the illegal online “public relations” practices nationwide since mid-April, in order to stabilize the online communication system and thus market economic order. The illegal practices include intentionally delete unfavorable posts, ghostwriters doing testimonials, manipulating online polls to make up facts, libel competitors or blackmail. The triggering case is thought to be rumors that SINOPEC hired online “PR” companies to fake the public opinion in support of price increases. Similarly, many companies claimed that they increased their products price according to public online polls. While some activists doubt this might become another wave of Internet censorship, I noticed the distorted development of PR industry and its impact on public perceptions.
Since several decades ago, the profession of public relations started to strive in China. International PR companies and local PR companies alike developed rapidly since then. With burgeoing development of technologies, online public relations companies were born to meet the demand to conduct research about relevant public opinion. According to China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA), the annual output value of online public relations reached up to one billion yuan in 2008, which grew fastest within the whole PR industry. However, driven by profits, the so-called “online PR” or “E-PR” has become the name for paying to delete posts, hiring ghostwriters to mislead public opinion, such as do hidden advertisement or libel competitive companies.
It’s reported that the number of registered online PR companies have exceeded one thousand. Those with only one website or one online writer are thought to be more than ten thousand. Fierce competition further worsened some of their practices. Such illegal practices reconfirmed people’s preconceptions of “spin” or deteriorate public perception of the whole PR profession. Under such circumstances, a public relations campaign is needed for the PR industry to keep prospering. Perhaps powerful government reconstruction of the online industry can weed the soil of PR industry.
The government departments involved include Communication Office of the Central Committee, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, Provisions on the Registration Procedures of Individual Industrial and Commercial Households.