From the Los Angeles Times
By Kemeng Fan
At first, it was merely a bizarre Chinese tidbit involving recycled cooking oil, a famous rapper, and an internet mix-up that went viral. Then the government intervened.
The story began on Jan 7, when the words "Zi Guang Ge gutter oil" began trending on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. Zi Guang Ge means "the pavilion of violet light," which sounded like a restaurant name, and "gutter oil" refers to illegally recycled, low-grade oil that some restaurants use to cut costs. Many figured the posts referred to a food safety scare.
They were wrong.
In fact, Zi Guang Ge is a magazine on political affairs run by the Chinese Communist party. Earlier, the magazine had taken to Weibo to criticize PG One, a popular Chinese rapper, for lyrics boasting of drug abuse and misogyny. The criticism infuriated some of the rapper's avid fans, who were outraged that a restaurant — or so they assumed — was insulting their hero.
The fans paid an army of online posters to tarnish its name by suggesting that it was using illicit oil. Their misfire led China's internet authorities to reprimand Weibo, which said that it "accepted all the criticisms from the regulators," and "voluntarily suspended its trending topics list" as a show of obedience....
"Online marketing activities and the government's online commentator campaigns are not entirely separate things," said Xiao Qiang, an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information and the founder of China Digital Times, an independent China news portal.
Xiao said that whereas the online campaigns to influence public opinion for business purposes is widespread, the political use of such campaigns is common to only a few governments. "A lot of companies use influence campaigns to promote their products, semi-legally without getting caught," he said. "Every country has this, but in the political arena, Russia uses this strategy in really obvious ways, and China in particular controls public opinion on a very large, obvious scale. These two governments are particularly infamous for doing this."...