In the event of hostilities, a marketing apparatus like this can be turned into an instant Agitprop unit.
In China, paid posters are known as the Internet Water Army because they are ready and willing to 'flood' the internet for whoever is willing to pay. The flood can consist of comments, gossip and information (or disinformation) and there seems to be plenty of demand for this army's services.
This is an insidious tide. Positive recommendations can make a huge difference to a product's sales but can equally drive a competitor out of the market. When companies spend millions launching new goods and services, it's easy to understand why they might want to use every tool at their disposal to achieve success.
The loser in all this is the consumer who is conned into making a purchase decision based on false premises. And for the moment, consumers have little legal redress or even ways to spot the practice.
Today, Cheng Chen at the University of Victoria in Canada and a few pals describe how Cheng worked undercover as a paid poster on Chinese websites to understand how the Internet Water Army works. He and his friends then used what he learnt to create software that can spot paid posters automatically.