Online marketing tricks rattle netizens' trust in Internet

16:43, June 21, 2010      

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Chinese Internet users may become more skeptical following a spate of reports exposing the profit-seeking manipulation of Internet hot topics that are designed to amuse the public, experts warned on Monday.

Many eye-catching hot topics on the Internet are not opinions of web surfers, as thought, but triumphant successes by professional Internet publicity agents taking advantage of the public's attention to make money or seek fame for their clients, the Guangzhou-based Nan Fang Daily reported last Friday citing anonymous sources within the industry, the latest in recent extensive media stories.

The widespread wave of media criticism was led by the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China, the People's Daily, which published, earlier in June, a series of investigative reports tracking down the masterminds behind Internet sensations in a bid to raise public concern over the emerging, yet disturbing, Internet marketing and publicity industry.

It has been estimated that at least thousands of small or large-sized Internet marketing companies are operating across the country, with large number of full-time or part-time employees hired to write postings that may catch the public's attention or steer online opinions towards the interest of their clients.

According to the report by the People's Daily, it usually follows a method of three steps to plot a case of Internet manipulation, starting from a large number of postings written by employees to trigger online debate, then causing public concern and media reports, and finally being rewarded with advertising revenues or other benefits.

"These publicity agents falsified or exaggerated so-called online hot topics and then, the sentiment and opinions of the public were 'hijacked'," said Wang Jun, a professor from the law school of Shanghai-based Fudan University.

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