As more and more businesses and enterprises expand their customer base via online shopping platforms, ratings and reviews have become one major way consumers can determine the trustworthiness of a business. In China, the wangluo shuijun, or ”Internet Water Army,” was formed in response to that demand, with the goal of “flooding” the internet with fake reviews, comments, and ratings intended to boost sales.
Recently, Dandong Han, a journalist from the Chinese Communist Party’s state media, Legal Daily, went undercover in dozens of shuijun business groups and published his investigations in an article titled “Unanimous and Consistent Positive Ratings in Online Shopping Could be Fake.”
According to Han, joining the shuijun may be as simple as responding to a hiring notice posted by an administrator in any public messaging group on the Tencent messaging app QQ, without verification of identity.
The novice shuijun is then allowed access to a private messaging group where the new hire, and the thousands of other members, can choose from hundreds to thousands of tasks given by the administrators daily. These tasks, such as promoting or disparaging a product or business, oftentimes only require copying and pasting an existing template of commentary with little to no modification.
Upon completing a task, the shuijun needs to send verifying screenshots in order to be paid from 0.50 yuan ($0.08) to 1.50 yuan ($0.24) per task.
These organizations usually disguise themselves with names like “Returning from the snow,” “Gathering together,” etc. Furthermore, to conceal sensitive content, a small portion of these messaging groups dismiss all participants upon completion of a particular task.
In the process of advancing his shuijun career, Han found that there are two categories of shuijun in the lowest tiers of this industry: those with a focus on quantity, and those with a focus on quality, with the latter being paid more due to complexity of the task.
In the quality sector of the shuijun, training is provided to members by giving them a list of words and phrases commonly used by people in particular areas of expertise. On the other hand, in the quantity sector of the shuijun, tasks can be completed with no modification to the template.
To further one’s career in the shuijun business, however, requires trust from the clients and verification of identity, as the administrators accept orders directly from their clients.
In addition to shuijun, other methods to influence the perceptions of the common citizens exist, such as “Cash for Thumb-ups,” “Information Redirection,” “Get Paid to Delete Posts,” and many others.
These practices have been used in China since the birth of e-commerce, and their influence extends outside the country as well.
According to the Security Times, a Chinese state-owned financial newspaper, Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, terminated over 50,000 Chinese stores on its platform in May 2021 for “improper use of review functions,” resulting in a loss of more than 100 billion yuan ($15.7 billion).
Deceptive practices also drive up the operating costs of a business. For instance, Amazon invested over $700 million and 10,000 employees for brand protections in 2020, according to its 2020 Brand Protection Report.
In a previous interview, Yifan Xia, a current affairs commentator, expressed his concern about the consequences of distrust between the Chinese People.
“Under the rule of the CCP, everything can be faked, officials can be bought off, and justice is often absent if consumers become victims. It can be seen that the level of trust between [the Chinese] people is very low. This is caused by the CCP’s system. The financial loss from the lack of trust is immeasurable,” Xia told the Chinese Edition of The Epoch Times.