Police in Beijing have detained at least ten people, including employees at web giant Baidu, over allegations that they deleted defamatory online posts about companies and government enterprises in return for money, the Beijing News reports.
The newspaper cited several cases since 2012 which exposed a profit chain that connected back to a single web censor working at the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.
One link in the chain, Xu Ning, an administrator at Baidu Tieba, was found to have accepted 67,400 yuan ($10,860) for removing over 300 posts in collaboration with a former Baidu employee named Lu Longwei.
A PR company launched by a former Baidu employee, surnamed Gu, was also found to be abusing its power through extortion. Gu was using his staff to scour the internet for unfavourable online posts about enterprises and government departments, which would then be used as a bargaining tool to squeeze money out of the organizations.
From 2010 to 2012, Gu is believed to have deleted over 2,000 posts on Baidu, 500 on news site Sohu and 20 posts on qianlong.com, with over 2 million yuan ($322,000) reportedly changing hands.
The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau web censor, surnamed Liu, was found to have accepted 770,000 yuan ($124,000) from Gu for deleting posts. He also received 150,000 yuan ($24,000) from other sources.
Following initial arrests in 2012, Baidu spokesperson Betty Tian said that "Baidu has always firmly cracked down on the illegal behaviour of online posts deletion for payment." She added that the company "has continuously provided professional ethics education to staff members who are given authority to delete online posts."