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China employs army of piece-rate ‘netizens’ for online thought control

(TibetanReview.net, Jan 02) — Apart from control through oversight and censorship, China is now engaging in proactive shaping and influencing of public opinion over the Internet to control the direction of public opinion. Its latest antic involves employing university students to monitor electronic bulletin-boards to steer discussions away from anti-party comments and discussions and also advanced the party line. Contemporaneous online chatter claimed that the party had paid these students 5 mao (or 50 Chinese cents, the equivalent of Rs 3.5) for every pro-party post, reported Daily News and Anyalysis (India) Jan 2. As a result, anyone who posts a blatantly propagandist pro-Communist Party message online is dismissed by increasingly cynical Chinese Netizens as belonging to the Wu Mao Dang (50 Cents Party), the report added.

Members of the 50 Cents Party are an acknowledged cyberpolice force: they serve as the eyes and ears of the Communist Party, act as its attack dog against “unacceptable” online content on politically sensitive issues, and steer bulletin board and blog debates with posts that reflect the opinions of the Communist Party, the report said. The members are even said to be required to undergo training by the Culture Ministry and secure certification after taking an exam.

The 50-cent army of ‘opinion makers’ are also said to operate on foreign-language websites, criticising Western notions of what's wrong with China and parleying the establishment of Chinese view. But their effect is said to be most visibly felt on domestic Chinese-language websites, current affairs forums, bulletin board services and chatrooms.

China’s national leader were reportedly inspired in this move by a successful cyberpolicing model in Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province in 2005. And they derived encouragement from President Hu Jintao who in 2008 drew the contours of the new policy when he advised the state media to take the lead in “setting the agenda” and shaping public opinion, the report noted. More specifically, he advised Communist Party leaders to “exercise supremacy over Internet public opinion, master the technique of online ‘guidance’ and use new technology to amplify the effectiveness of ‘positive’ propaganda”.

The 50 Cents Party move means that the Great Firewall of China, though awesome as a tool for exercising Internet control and censorship, is obviously not enough. But as the internet space expands and the people increasingly see through the communist party’s game, the big question arises, how long and how far the party can deny freedom of information and expression to its citizens.

 

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Last updated on Jan 03, 2009 18:01:03