According to Global Times, the three are suspected of colluding with people outside the company to delete the posts. A fourth employee was also fired by Baidu but has not been arrested after also attempting to delete posts for cash.
“Baidu has fired the four. If we discover such cases, we will severely punish staff. Baidu will close the loopholes by strengthening management to maintain order in our communication platform,” Baidu spokesperson Li Guoxun told the newspaper.
The company has apparently dealt with similar incidents in the past, although this is the first time that police have been involved.
The post deletions are reportedly a way of getting around negative reviews, with millions of search results on Baidu claiming to offer professional post deleting services.
A member of a company that specialises in such services Beijing Haotian Lianmeng, told the Global Times that deleting an article from a forum would typically cost 1 000 yuan (US$159). Removing one from a blog meanwhile, would cost 2 000 yuan while 3 000 yuan would buy you a deletion from a new portal like Sina.
“We can offer a professional long-term maintenance service for a company, 150,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan a year. If you choose this service, we will keep an eye on your company around the clock and delete any negative messages,” the staff member said.
Baidu, which owns around 78% of search revenue in China says it is stepping up its efforts to crackdown on post deletions.
In an official statement, the company claims that it maintains “thorough records” of their employees’ every action, and that it will continue proactively reporting illegal post deletions to authorities:
Baidu has always firmly cracked down on the illegal behavior of online posts deletion for payment. Baidu has discovered the suspicious behaviors of several employees in its recent crackdown on illegal online post deletion. Baidu does not tolerate such behavior, and has disciplined the non-compliance staff based on relevant disciplinary guidelines stated in the company’s employee regulations handbook. Baidu has also proactively reported actions involving illegal behavior to the public security organs.
From the founding of the Baidu Postbar, we have established that we will not accept any payment in handling online user complaints. Baidu has continuously provided corporate ethics education to staff members who are given authority to delete online posts. With regards to the company’s online post deletion process, Baidu maintains thorough records of its employees’ every action, and verify these records after. Baidu will crack down on any illegal post deletion behavior upon discovery. Illegal post deletion is a major problem for the Chinese Internet; Baidu will employ more rigorous administration and procedures in managing illegal post deletion to set an example for Chinese Internet companies.
We remind the general public that any online information claiming Baidu Postbar accepts payment to delete posts are considered illegal information, and that the public must guard against such online scams. We welcome the public to report any individuals or organizations involved in illegal post deletion by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Baidu will be cooperating with the public security bureau, the industrial and commercial bureau as well as other relevant government organs in the crackdown of outlaws and illegal behavior, and will pursue the legal responsibilities of criminals in order to protect the rights and interests of the public.