Chapter 280: Dispatching The Online Water Army

After Yi Xi left, the reporters who had lost their target surrounded us instead. Xiaotao waved desperately at the crowd, "Please leave! Don’t crowd around here!"

However, the reporters ignored her, rushing towards the station regardless of the obstructions like hungry wolves after a sheep. Right then, Director-General Cheng came forth and stood before them with a smile, "Friends of the media, I am Director-General Cheng, the supervisor of this case. We will hold a press conference at eight in the evening. I will answer your questions then."

His words were polite and measured, prompting the reporters to withdraw politely.

Xiaotao ordered some takeout so we could eat while we discussed the case. After all, it was a race against time. She sent officers to chase down some clues while she looked for surveillance videos near the hotel. Our next step was to investigate the identity and background of the drowned man and find methods to obtain Yi Xi's dental records.

The officers soon went out on their duties. Xiaotao turned to me and said, "Song Yang, you’ve just returned from your internship. Go back and rest for the night! I will inform you of our findings tomorrow morning."

"Don't worry about me,” I assured. “I’d like to watch the surveillance video."

"I expect you’ll be disappointed,” replied Xiaotao. “There’s nothing special."

"It's no harm to take a look!" I laughed.

The three of us visited the technical support department and watched the hotel's surveillance video but found no signs of the purported visitor at noon.

“Could the housekeeping staff really be lying?" I wondered out loud.

"Although I don't have your ‘Sharingan’ eyes, judging from my years of experience, she’s telling the truth."

"Who said anything about Sharingan eyes?" I looked at her, bewildered.

Xiaotao pointed at the culprit Dali who immediately buried his head in shame and continued eating his lunch. What a bunch of nonsense! He was teasing Xiaotao for her lack of anime knowledge.

I fast-forwarded and rewinded the video several times. "There’s no need to watch the rest,” said Xiaotao.

I found the surveillance video rather interesting despite there being only one picture and no sound. I was absorbed in watching the video but Dali was almost nodding off. All of sudden, his eyes brightened as he pointed to a woman in the video. "What a nice figure!" he exclaimed.

It was a girl in red with a voluptuous body, two long, slender and pale legs, and flaming red lips–she was sexy and bewitching.

"What the hell are you focusing on?!” Xiaotao burst out angrily. “Can’t you learn from Song Yang? Look how calm he is!"

Unfortunately, I too failed Xiaotao's expectations, repeating this part of the video over and over again.

"What clues have you found?" asked Xiaotao excitedly.

"Xiaotao-jiejie, how can you so biased?!” Dali loudly protested. “Why is it that I’m accused of having my attention elsewhere when I look at a beautiful girl, but when it comes to Song Yang, he’s looking for clues?!"

"That woman is a prostitute!" I shouted.

“How can you tell?" the two looked at me in puzzlement.

"Where’s the leaflet with the solicitation advert we found on the dead man?” I asked. “Go get it now!"

Xiaotao admitted she had thrown it away but Dali slowly removed it from his pocket and shamefully added, "I was only taking it back to show friends! That’s all!"

I grabbed the advertisements and examined them one by one, noticing that one of the photos contained the same person in the video. Because of the tear mole on her face, she was easy to identify.

Xiaotao took a deep breath and leaned forward, "Isn’t this too much of a coincidence?! Does this mean that the drowned man has a special relationship with Yi Xi and he might have once stayed in this hotel?"

"That’s hard to prove from the advertisements alone,” I said. “What I’m concerned with is another matter. Do you think it’s possible for us to call this woman and ask her when she went to this hotel to conduct her business?"

"Can we go now?" Dali turned his eager gaze onto me.

Xiaotao rolled her eyes at him. "Isn't there a phone number on it? Just call her and ask."

Xiaotao made a phone call but refrained from mentioning anything about the police. She claimed she was looking for some company for her boss, beating about the bush to find out more information about the prostitute on the 13th, the day before yesterday.

Upon hanging up the call, Huang Xiaotao laughed, "Song Yang, I really admire you! How did you notice that?"

"Either the housekeeping staff or the surveillance video is wrong,” I surmised. “So I thought to verify the date of the video first."

"What are you talking about?" asked Dali, his face covered in confusion.

I explained that the video we were watching was of the day before last, not yesterday. Dali pointed to the screen, "Isn't there a date on the video? Was it faked?"

"As far as I know, there are methods to replace a certain stretch of the video with other ones!” I clarified. “The date is automatically generated by the computer. I’m guessing Lao Yao knows how to do that."

I immediately phoned Lao Yao. It had been more than a month since I last contacted him, and this time, I got through almost instantly. The man was so enthusiastic it took me a while to calm him down and ask if he could restore the real video.

Lao Yao explained the technical principles behind video alteration. It was possible to recover the original if it was deleted but not if it was overwritten. He said he would search for a backup on the hard disk.

This matter wasn’t of urgency, mainly for future preparation so the video could be used as evidence in court. Right now, the crux of the matter was our discovery that someone had forged the evidence, which was of importance to solving the crime. There was no point in alerting the suspect.

"Yi Xi is such a big star that he’s the focus everywhere he goes,” remarked Dali. “How the hell did he find the time to do something like this?"

"Of course he didn't do it himself!” I deduced. “Behind every star is a huge interest group. I think they are the ones who tampered with the video! Just think about it—his company would certainly hate to see Yi Xi, their cash cow, go to jail. So it’s in their best interest to help him."

"Are you trying to say that Yi Xi did kill the victim?" asked Dali.

I didn't have a definite answer to that question.

After our discussion, Dali and I went back to school first. Back at the dormitory, I watched everything available on Yi Xi–documentaries, interviews, gossip news and so on, late into the night. Early the next morning, I was awoken by a call from Xiaotao. "Song Yang, look at Weibo now,” came her nervous voice.

I opened the app on my phone and found that Yi Xi had updated a microblog last night, the contents revealing the interrogation he had undergone in Nanjiang City because of the case. He alleged that during the investigation, a female officer surnamed Huang and a male officer surnamed Song had insulted, intimidated, and physically attacked him. Attached to the microblog was a photo of an arm injury he claimed was inflicted by the officer surnamed Song when he pushed him against the wall.

This microblog was forwarded and commented on more than 100 million times, and Yi Xi's Baidu Tieba had aroused great indignation. Fans were already planning to personally retaliate against Xiaotao and me.

Upon seeing the online uproar, my head blanked for a minute before I replied to Xiaotao, "That’s total fabrication!"

"Unfortunately, public opinion isn’t based on evidence,” sighed Xiaotao. “Yi Xi has a professional public relations team and thousands in his water army. Drowning us with insults from the public is a piece of cake for them."

She was absolutely right. In the Information Age, it was all too easy to discredit someone’s reputation by unleashing a smear campaign. After all, the water army hired by Yi Xi could control and mislead public opinion. Take the famous incident of Li Gang for example: the driver who caused the accident had shouted, "Call the police then. I won't run off. My father is Li Gang!" But a reporter took it out of context and created false accusations on the Internet, spurring angry attacks from the public that was directed at the children of government officials. In fact, no one had actually bothered to investigate the truth.

I was so enraged by Yi Xi’s underhanded tactics that I almost dropped my cell phone.

"Song Yang, their actions are basically an admission of guilt," concluded Xiaotao.

"Yes,” I nodded. “And they’ve exposed the fact that they tampered with the case behind the scenes."

Xiaotao reflected for a moment and said, "The power of the Internet is terrible. I’m worried that you’ll face retaliation in school. Why don't you move to my place?"

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