Propaganda on the Internet
More than 540 million people currently use the Internet in China, but there are also millions of Internet-based “opinion-guiding” agents employed by the Chinese government to control and censor every single Internet forum and portal.
Secretly in the employment of the Chinese government, these censors officially are called “Internet commentators” but popularly known as the “50-Cents Party.” The nickname can be traced to October 2004 when the Hunan provincial Community Party Propaganda Department pioneered the system of paying 50 cents in Chinese yuan per posting to Internet agents hired specifically to write postings that seek to counter every piece the government dislikes.
Based on the Hunan model in 2007, then-Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao issued a directive in creating a massive “Internet commentator army” made up of “comrades who are ideologically resolute, skilled in Internet technology and familiar with the approach and language of the common Internet users.” The job of the agents is to “guide public opinions expressed on the Internet.”
Since then, these diligent 50-Cents Party members have proliferated by the millions at every Internet portal in China’s vast cyberspace, scanning and searching, incognito, for any “negative opinions” to counter. The postings are designs to appear as spontaneous, individual responses.
In reality, these 50-Cents Party members are under the control of Communist Party propaganda apparatus at all levels of government.
In Beijing alone, 1 in 10 residents in the capital city of 20 million are “propaganda workers,” according to the city’s vice mayor and municipal party propaganda chief Lu Wei, who spoke at a Propaganda Workers’ Conference on Jan. 17.
He disclosed that 60,000 professional “propaganda workers” are directly in the employed by the city government and more than 2 million informal collaborators work as the city’s propaganda team, most of them on university campuses and youth-oriented organizations that are most likely Internet-based.
At the conference, the Beijing propaganda chief ordered his propaganda army troops to master the Internet posting skills “in order to create positive energy” by posting Twitter-like messages exalting the Communist Party’s image and achievement, providing “opinion-guidance” on “hot topics” such as corruption, housing, and inequality.
• Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.