Guangzhou cracks down on “internet water army”, China’s version of fake followers

After the Cybersecurity Law that came into effect in June of last year, Chinese authorities are paying more attention to—and publicizing their action against—rumors and fake news online. After three months of planning, the police of Guangzhou have recently cracked down on a “water army” (in Chinese), which involves 77 suspects and a sum of RMB 4 million ($635,000), the Southern Metropolis Daily has reported.

Commonly known as shuijun (水军 or water army), the paid posters are ready to flood blogs, forum, and chat groups for whoever is willing to pay for biased comments, rumors, gossip, and information or disinformation.

There seems to be plenty of demands for their services and an ecosystem surround the tide is forming. Low-end migrants, housewives, even students could constitute the basic level of the industrial chain. They send the paid-for content to various outlets for tens of cents to several RMB per post.

Compared with posting comments, deleting and screening contents that contain negative reviews involves higher-level access. In Guangzhou’s case, one suspect acts as an agent to connect clients and webmasters who have the right to wipe out negative posts. He gained an annual RMB 90,000 worth of commissions through this business.

Guangzhou’s latest move is among a larger scale crackdown launched by China’s public security authority. Since last May, the country has uncovered over 40 cases that involve hundreds of million RMB. Over 200 suspects are arrested and 5,000 spamming social media accounts were shut down.