After reports of the incident leaked out over the weekend, Chinese search engine leader Baidu confirmed that local police have arrested three now former employees for allegedly accepting bribes to delete posts from its TieBa forum service.

Update: Official Baidu statement added below.

Global Times reports that a total of four employees were fired, but one of the workers apparently only tried to delete posts for money and was not arrested by public security officials. An internal Baidu email announcing the occurrence surfaced prior to the company’s official confirmation.

“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,” a spokesperson told the publication.

Baidu acknowledged that it had dealt with a similar incident in the past, though this was the first time that police were involved. An anonymous source told Global Times that “tens of thousands of yuan” were involved.

Agencies promising deletion of unwanted posts have sprung up as an underground market in China. For instance, a company advertising the service that was contacted by the publication offered to delete articles from forums, blogs or even news portals and even proactively monitor for negative posts.

Baidu, which has close to an 80 percent share of the Chinese search market, has vowed to step up efforts to prevent paid-post deletions.

The company is experiencing a strong growth spurt. It reported $1.26 per share in profit and revenues of $859 million for the second quarter of 2012. CEO Robin Li said last week that Baidu is interested in acquisitions to help grow the company.

Baidu recently teamed up with micro-blogging giant Sina to provide mobile search and content across each other’s platforms.

(Hat tip to Bill Bishop)

Baidu’s statement:

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 bdjb@baidu.com. 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.

Image via TNW