Propaganda

More on the 50 cent army

Recently featured on Danwei, Thomas Crampton's video interview with Oiwan Lam about the 'fifty cent army' of online commenters who allegedly do Party propaganda 2.0 caused some controversy in Danwei's comments section.

Here is another article about the fifty cent army, from David Bandurski at Hong Kong University's China Media Project:

China’s Guerrilla War for the Web

They have been called the “Fifty Cent Party,” the “red vests” and the “red vanguard.” But China’s growing armies of Web commentators—instigated, trained and financed by party organizations—have just one mission: to safeguard the interests of the Communist Party by infiltrating and policing a rapidly growing Chinese Internet. They set out to neutralize undesirable public opinion by pushing pro-Party views through chat rooms and Web forums, reporting dangerous content to authorities.

By some estimates, these commentary teams now comprise as many as 280,000 members nationwide, and they show just how serious China’s leaders are about the political challenges posed by the Web. More importantly, they offer tangible clues about China’s next generation of information controls—what President Hu Jintao last month called “a new pattern of public-opinion guidance.”

It was around 2005 that party leaders started getting more creative about how to influence public opinion on the Internet...

Note: The above article is on the Far Eastern Economic Review's website, in the paid subscriber section but made available for non subscribers for free. FEER's website however appears to be blocked in the Mainland.

There are currently 17 Comments for More on the 50 cent army.

Comments on More on the 50 cent army

HEY: Occasionally, when time permits, I write a few worrds online, to defend PRC from Armies of China-bashers. Do I belong to the putative 280,000 Brotherhood, alleged in related post? Just curious.

By some estimates, these commentary teams now comprise as many as 280,000 members nationwide.

Are there really people that are retarded enough to believe in this crap?
Let's make some reasonalbe analysis here. 280000,if there is any, apparently is exaggerating, so lets assume China only has 1/10 of this number, that's 28000 "Fifty Cents party" members. Given the currently high inflation in China, These "instigated, trained and financed by party organizations" may
not get through by only making 50 cents a post, so lets say their salary has been raise to 1 yuan a post. If they make 2k a month, that's 2k posts a month. They apparently are not "Child Labor", so they work 5 days a week,roughly 20 days a month. so in average, they should make 100 posts a day in order not to get fired. 100*28000=2.8 million posts a day from these people alone. Where will these posts be? Most likely discussion boards? how many sites? I can name at most 10, so lets assume that these commenters are asked to post at 100 sites. Now certaily these people wont go to Tianya's Sex board to tell people how to improve sex life or go to Fashion board to how to dress up for the next party, they most likely will hang out in the General board, Politics, International affairs boards etc. the number of such boards typically doesnt exceed 10 in each forum. so overrall they have 1000 discussion boards to make posts in. 2.8million/1000=2800 posts in each discussion board every day.
Do people serioulsy believe this crap?

It sucks to be in the Pro-China poster's position right now because you're either viewed as:

1. Paid by the CCP
2. Ignorant enough to voluntarily defend the CCP

Tough luck!

The thing that get me about this is China shoots itself in the foot with another dumb policy and then somehow the reporters get blamed for the consequences. Why not tell your government not to do stupid things like pay people to write pro-CCP statements on the web? Eventually it would get found out and would make China look bad. Your government should have known better. It's not the reporters fault for breaking the story, it's the stupid CCP that has once again successfully made its citizens and supporters look like they are a government manipulated mob. Stop acting like its the Western media's fault (or strategy) that China gets bad press, its your leadership and until people realize that you will continue to be painted in the same light.

I can't believe this shit is still being propagated. Getting paid per blog post? Logistically, how is this even possible?! If you cannot do this on a scale of 1 person, then how would you do this with upwards of 280,000 people?!

If I were being paid-per-blog-post, then I can think of more than one way to cheat the system in my favor. Technically, the idea of a pay-per-blog-post system is totally wacky. A flat-rate-pay system makes more sense, but then those who made up this shit were idiots...

Andy R, stop being a dumbass. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together and an ounce of critical thinking would realize that the existence of a 50-cent "army" is simply a cock&bull story dreamt up by self-styled internet "experts" enamoured of their own delusional self-importance (see boing-boing). It doesn't take a freaking genius to realize that when Chinese netizens accuse each other of being 50-centers, it's not because they are actually paid agents of the government, it's because its a simple ad-hominem attack against people with different opinions that doesn't take any effort. Likewise if I call you a stupid tool and a front for the CIA, it doesn't actually imply that you really work for American intelligence. (Though you are still a stupid tool)

Andy,

The Chinese government is indeed stupid if it actually does employ an army of 50-centers. Those who believe that pro-China posters are all paid by the Chinese government are equally stupid, if not more.

My 50 cents:

The fact that none of the commenters has addressed any of the substantive claims in the article whatsoever strongly suggests they didn't bother to read it. As I've been reading David Bandurski's work for some years, and have been consistently impressed with its quality, it seemed prudent to me to actually scan his article before commenting.

@bemis: The answer to your question is no. The article discusses the establishment and influence of Web commentators trained by China's Culture Ministry, as well as schools (e.g. Shanxi Normal University) and other party organizations. If you are not a member of those organizations and have not attended any training sessions, you're not included.

@wk: At no point does the article claim that the organized groups of Web commenters it mentions are actually paid anything, with the exception of a team of students at Nanjing University, who were supported with work-study funds. The article simply notes that the term wumaodang became a popular appellation for members of these groups.

@Anonymous: I have publicly supported the CCP on more than one occasion, and will almost certainly again do so. The same goes for criticism. However, I get your point. There may yet be greater 'blowback' from the Culture Ministry's current methods to provide "Guidance of Public Opinion Problems on the Internet".

@Andy R: Actually, I think this approach is pretty smart. Censorship is reactive, not proactive. This way, the government is at least engaging in public discussion. You can't blame them for wanting to make their case, or for being wary about the dangers of internet discourse. Disinformation is a powerful weapon, and the PRC government is hardly the only one to employ it. The further development of public discourse should help to neutralize disinformation from all sides.

@bob: The term wumaodang is probably best not taken literally - rather as a generally accepted reference, as it is in the article.

@Jing: Point taken, but the article quotes "an insider at one mainland Web site" who claims that "There are now a huge number of Fifty Cent Party members spreading messages on our site," and that "Lately there have been a number of cases where the Fifty Cent Party has lit fires themselves. One of the most obvious was over CNN's Jack Cafferty. All the posts angrily denouncing him were written by Fifty Cent Party members, who asked that we run them." As I understand how these things work, the reason such commentators could "ask" to have their comments posted was because they represented the government, and the site administrators could not say no. Does this seem outlandish?

@Pfeffer: I disagree with your first assertion and agree with the second. Again, I think the government strategy to coach advocates to enter internet discussions on its behalf is actually pretty smart, to the extent they can offer reasoned arguments in favor of government ideas and positions. Engaging in jingoistic nationalistic campaigns is far more problematic, as it degrades public discourse, which I would suggest potentially threatens many government and general social interests.

Finally, in China, 280,000 is not a particularly big number. Burdanski doesn't reference his piece, so I don't know where this number comes from, other than "by some estimates," as he states. It may well be overstated. That said, it's presented as an estimate, and is followed by more concrete examples of the phenomenon the article is intended to address.

I was not paid by Mr Burdanski, the PRC government, or any other party to write this.

Cheers

du yisa,

Claims with disinformation and hearsay?

Then "50 cent party" can only be a derogatory term for someone who voices support for the CCP on an online forum, nothing more.

Come back with with some solid, verifiable evidence please.

Du yisa,

I can't believe any sane person would believe the crazy notion that all or most of the pro-China posters are paid by the Chinese government, I just can't believe that. But again there are all sorts of wackos out there that I don't understand. You are assmuming that no Chinese would be pro-China without being paid. That's just absurd. The Chinese are just as patriotic/nationalistic/defensive as everyone else.

Unless you tell me that sgt. slaughter is paid by the US government. :-)

@Bob: The article mentions a number of specific cases that can be checked (e.g. the case at Nanjing University, also cited by my comment above). You are welcome to test whether it is in fact solid and verifiable. Given what I know of Burdanski's work, I suggest you might find that it is.

@Pfeffer: Your reading of my comment was sloppy. I assume no such thing, and said as much. I recommend that both you and Bob actually take the time to read the article, if it is in fact your intent to participate in a substantive discussion.

Cheers

此地无隐五毛两

There is a historical precedent for Chinese government officials to pay citizens 50 cents for dead flies in Luoyang, so 50 cents for Internet anti-foreign pest posts (CNN's fly guy Jack Cafferty, for example) is not unfathomable.

Apologies to Mr Bandurski for playing dyslexic games with his name. This actually happens to me a lot, so I tend to check for it, but in this case I missed it.

@Spelunker: I tend to agree with wk's comment above (in addition to this profanity-laden post from Roland at ESWN, the language of which indicates he's still adjusting from his recent trip to NYC) that the numbers for such payments just don't add up. That said, I suspect there probably are some forms of support beyond training sessions and information updates. In addition, I find Roland's observation that disinformation can be far more effective than censorship in neutralizing hostile dialogue, to be extremely germane.

Dear du yisa:
I tend to agree with Oiwan and sincerely hope Roland gets well soon. Bless her and his hearts. I respect your opinion as well, and believe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Cheers!
Spelunker

You dont believe astroturfing exists/is feasible? Then why has it been used sucessfully both outside of china (wiki link) and of course in China? How hard is it to hire X number of people to sit in front of a computer and work supervised? Impossible?!? Are you digging ditches? Using a spinning wheel? No? Then lift your head up from your cubicle buddy and look around!

Did anyone else notice that wumaodang (50 cent party) in this post got transposed to "fifty cent army"?

Right, because it's positively unfathomable that large groups of people, let alone Chinese people, for heaven's sake, would be willing to spend hours doing easy labor for money. Why, that's as preposterous as claiming that you could make money by scamming people to stuff envelopes all day; as ludicrous as suggesting that a Chinese person would, say, scour the city collecting plastic bottles all day for Rmb0.0625 each. No Chinese would EVER do such a thing. Nor will you ever hear of a Chinese person working in condemned or near-condemned or even healthy buildings sewing together bits of shoe leather or, say, sporting apparel, for a few fen or a few mao per piece. Why, there are no so-called "sweatshops" in China, my boy! Whoever told you such rubbish simply has a vendetta against our country's gorgeous large, red sheep.

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