The Thomas Crampton Channel

China's 50-cent Twitter censors

Oiwan Lam tells Thomas Crampton how China's army of online freelance censors are now turning their efforts toward manipulating opinion on Twitter, in addition to their work on blogs and chatrooms.

There are currently 45 Comments for China's 50-cent Twitter censors.

Comments on China's 50-cent Twitter censors

Cool, Thomas did you film into the mirror intentionally to get your and Oiwan on camera at the same time? Pretty neat effect.

Fascinating interview. Wondering how many governments might follow China's lead here.

Now that is the level of professional filmmaking this topic deserves!

Makes me wonder about the so-called "public" outcry about corporate donations for earthquake relief and other criticism campaigns.


I'd love to take credit for it, but the mirror-effect was unintentional. The only quiet space we could find to was beside an elevator that had a reflective wall.

That said, it is a cost-saving technique I may use again: Two camera angles with just one camera!

It seems like a lot of these people are showing up on English language sites like the as well. Anytime they publish an article about Tibet or China there is a flood of comments defending China's actions. That is fair enough but based on the sheer number of comments I would have to think that some are being paid to post.


Could this mean that China's nationalism is fully state-sponsored?

How long until a 50-cent-er leaves a comment in this thread.

Quick, someone go wake one up!! There's 50-cents in it for you!

Video is blocked. Couldn't view it without proxy.


I'm sure there are many proud Chinese ready to defend the actions of their homeland and that's fair enough. But I'm sure that a good number of commenters are paid trolls as well. Not that some of the China bashers are any better!

Thank you for getting this story out. You can certainly see repetition in many of the rebuttals to Western criticism of China over the last few months, and I would not doubt that many of these "debate strategies" are the result of such "seeding" of chatrooms etc. with officially sanctioned opinions by these netizens for hire. It's a brilliant plan on the part of the Chinese government, and one that needs to be more exposed. I think that it is not too far-fetched to think that English sites have also been target of this effort as the comment above suggests, especially in the run up to the Olympics.

By the way, I could only view this interview through a proxy, so the Net Nanny obviously doesn't want this story to get legs.

i can watch the video in Liaoning without any proxy~~ LS sucks~~

Alright, so there is this idea of Chinese Censorship 2.0 and this army of freelancers seeding public opinion in China with directives from Party Central...but other than that, what does this interview really have to offer?

Oiwan Lam has had her own run-in with censorship right here in Hongkong and would make a more credible commentator on the Hongkong situation, just as the previous piece on Hongkong's sense of nationalism was supported by credible commentary with Stephen Vines...this particular piece seems to be rather thin soup...

These so-called 50 cent-er might be the reason why there are so many anti-government posts on Chinese website. LOL!

Is there any way to verify what she said in the interview? "Friends" are not very reliable sources. How do we know that some of the anti-China comments were not paid for? And the conclusion shouldn't slip into "all pro-China comments are be state-sponsored..."

If this kind of video gain credibility, tomorrow I will make a video talking about net spies. I will also ask someone who knows someone who get funded by the CIA or other sinister oversea organization to seed anti-china comment plotting to overthrow the government.

And you got some information wrong. There are actually 5 levels of 50-cent agents. Only the lowest earn 50 cents. The top agents earn like 100000 cents per comment and 100 times that per blog post that have over 1000 views. Yep, all bloggers at BloggingforChina are top agents. Buxi is like the CEO. Chinese government are that desperate to gain favorable online opinion. They are clever enough to formulate grand online opinion strategies and hire sophisticated public relations agents, but they aren't smart enough to get out of their traditional official media language and their lock-everything strategy to counter bad press. Who cares about traditional media, online opinion is the most important.


How much do you think the Chinese government is paying those who are "defending China's actions"? Pretty meager, I would think. Why would those who are well versed in English want to work for $10 a day when they could make much more elsewhere?

My classified ad:

I am willing to work for any western government, organization, media outlet, individual etc. to bash China. I am cheap so I am only asking for 49 cents (please use paypal by the way) per post. I think I will be a rich man pretty soon given how hated China is. Any takers??

This is really ridiculous. One day you meet somebody who has a friend so called "50-cent" twitter, another day you may have a friend with inside information saying that Danwei is sponsored by CIA. Can you really trust these craps?? If you really wanna do the survey, go to the public. Never stuck in a elevator like a sneak pigeon!

Holy crap. Even if the story is true, I believe it's Fаlungong that pioneered the practice, and they have been doing this for years, but somehow the blogsphere largely ignored the phenomenon. I guess it's only natural that the communist party finally learned something from Fаlungong.

So people who rebut "western" arguments are 50-centers? If that's the case should I believe all those who criticise Chinese government are paid by Fаlungong? How much does Fаlungong pay per comment? 30 cents?

> Video is blocked. Couldn't view it without proxy.


This is oooold, as in, the 50-cent army has already been well-documented on ESWN.

@ Pffefer

As I said I am sure there are many Chinese who feel it is their duty to defend China's actions, especially when there are so many China bashers, many of whom seem to be misinformed.

Having said that I also have no doubt there are people paid by the government to post comments sympathetic to China, and I'm sure they make more than $10 a day or whatever it costs to employ a Chinese to post on Chinese websites.

I used the as an example as articles about China seem to draw a lot of pro-China and anti-China comments, and I simply don't believe that a lot of Chinese would normally visit that site.

The Chinese government uses the domestic media as a propaganda tool, why wouldn't they try to influence opinion in the western media if they are able to?

So if I write in favor of China government then I become a 50-cent-er?

Oh, well. Let me be.

The world is so interestingly pretty simple. LOL at those 0 second 0 cent basher.


How many of us do you think are paid by the Chinese government here??

Only thing that makes me doubt this is true is, if that guy had been living in the country long enough to learn stuff like this he would definitely know how risky it is making a little camcorder documentary and posting it. The facts might be right, coincidentally, but if you don't see any fear of retribution in their eyes then that's a tip off they're just bored and needed something to do. Anyone that's lived there knows what I'm talking about if you've had a 1am in home "random police questioning".

I must say that I disagree with the use of the word "censorship" to describe the 50-cent articles and tweets. I think of censorship when the GFW or Net Nanny blocks content outside China and I need to use a VPN tunnel to reach what I want to reach. Most of the time I think that western journalists get overly dramatic about using the word censorship when it comes to China since that is what the editorial offices with their offices love to eat up.

This is what is called astroturfing, and has been used for decades in the west, especially by PR firms and lobbyists in Washington. You can read the definition at the above Wikipedia link.

This is not censorship, this is public relations. And all governments, not just the Chinese government, do it in one form or another.

@ Pffefer

On this Danwei blog - maybe none of you.

I didn't say that I agreed with what the girl in the interview said about what is happening in China.

But I am sure that the Chinese government tries to influence public opinion in the west by having people post comments sympathetic to their position. Its not necessarily a bad thing - no doubt some western governments do the same.

And as someone commented above, special interest groups like the Fаlun Gong probably do it far more than anyone else.

Maybe the west doesn't really understand how cultural revolution began?

"As I said I am sure there are many Chinese who feel it is their duty to defend China's actions"

This is an excellent example of judging people by their position.

Glad we have passed the dark time. When will you civilized people be enlightened?

Do Chinese still need that so-called 50-cent to "counter-attack" the badmonthing of China?
Not mentioning that that time was long over and this Lam is unreliable, 50-cents is nothing to buy a Chinese and a begger wouldn't pick up the coin.
What a joke, when Chinese middleclass population in higher than USA on basis of PPP (purchase power parity)?
Come on to join China bashing, a new Olympic sport!

let us judge arguments by their own merits, not whether they are paid or not pay, or who pays. Western media is all based on corporate for profit model, and you are hired for what they know you would write, or not write. And for this video, it is there for being able to attract attention, and in the final analysis, whether you will be paid or not.

As much as I respect Oiwan Lam for her consistently concise posts on GVO, I'm afraid I have to say that interview was downright painful to watch. While I don't doubt the existence of the wu mao dang or something to that effect, I have to agree with others above that much of what she said was categorically best. What she offered in way of insight or evidence was probably only substantive for those looking for validation of pre-conceived notions. Again, nothing personal against Oiwan but yikes.

@Paul Denlinger

Yes, you are correct that censorship is not the best term for the headline.

When I wrote a later posting for my French blog, I used the term "manipulate", which is more accurate.

Your term Astroturfing is even better. I love it!

Yeah, I with Denlinger on this one. This is not really censorship, but rather just very lame digital PR. At any rate, I am of the opinion that most Chinese netizens see right through this stuff anyway (whether a brand or a government is behind it), rendering the effort a huge waste of time and talent. Young, ambitious, smart, recent grads of China's top universities should be put to better use.

I want to know who is her friend.This is responsible to post it without assured sources.

I think Pffefer is a 50-center. I'm calling you out.

By the way can 50-cent take the gov to court for stealing his namesake?


Where have you been since you got your face slapped by me with the stuff about how the Chinese and the Americans see each other?

Slaughter my ass!

DavidO, Chinese sounding commentors having an opinion about China/Tibet certainly is proof they are paid.

Go ahead, why would I try to earn 7 cents per comment, heck gas is almost 4 bucks a gallon here.

Why wouldn't I have AI-based comment-bot with my ancestral DNA imprint that's directly controlled by some CCP-MOM supercomputer? You bet that's how I can afford fancy 1st world living with 7 cent per post.

I for one hope you'll never be convicted on "why wouldn't he?" Because if I let it happen to you, I'm next.

There's scant mentioning of Fаlun Gong, so allow me to point out there are public records (non-profit declarations) that show US government is paying Fаlun Gong millions.

I noticed a quasai-government non-profit "Friends of Fаlun Gong", founded by fmr. Congressman Tom Lanto's wife and Ambassador Mark Palmer from the NED, have given Fаlun Gong over 6 million dollars in 5 years.

Is there such financial document proving 50-centers?

[Link removed due to sensitive words. Trying to get unblocked here! Search for "Money Trail between US Government And" to find the page. (2010.05.22) --JM]

i have written up some clarifications at tom crampton's blog, mainly to distinguish 50 cents and information officer. the former is more informal and i am not sure how exactly they are recruited, the latter is open recruitment. as for the twitter, i said it is more difficult to manipulated because people know each other, but some complained that they were followed by "stranger" and decided to set a private mode.

the existence of 50 cents is some what a common understanding in the chinese forum. it is just like the p.r news or blogs in the West. the major different is that it is state / party sponsor here. but it is because of the difference in governance regime -- and this is no news.

so when i do the interview, i don't take it as a news story, just experience or "hearsay". however, when i said friends, it is "real" friends, not the facebook kind of never face-to-face chatting friends.

the funny thing is that, people have been talking about this in "chinese" for such a long time, and no one seems so surprised. when it appears in "english", westerners magnified the "state / party sponsor" element (which is the very nature of our polity), and some chinese start to be defensive.

during the web wed presentation, i stressed that everywhere has media manipulation (in the west, we have political and commercial p.r news), it is important for us to know how it works and deal with it (creating independent media space), rather than making a fuss leading to no where.

"Where have you been since you got your face slapped by me with the stuff about how the Chinese and the Americans see each other?"---Pfeffer

Huh? I don't know what you are talking about. You only say anti-American bullshit though. If you are a US citizen I ask you to kindly tear up you passport and not return. If you aren't a US citizen that I ask you to continue what you are doing and say whatever you damn well please because 1.) we don't give a crap and 2.)the USA will always rule the world.

"Slaughter my ass!"---Pffefer

I would rather not do anything to your ass. Word on the street is that it is covered with puss-filled boils---you should get that checked.
What? Oh sorry, I didn't know that was your face.

Current Score:
SGT. SLAUGHTER: 5,000,000
Pffefer: 0

Geez, slaughter, you seriously need to grow up!

Is there any way to quantify the impact of astroturfing? I suppose many organisations and governments use it to improve their image. Chances to identify pro-CCP helpers could be slightly greater than identifying those of other bosses (still usually without proof, usually). The CCP's problem will be that they leave nothing to chances. Then again, both bugged and spontaneous pro-CCP comments are often pre-cut speech bubbles.
Still an interesting video, and maybe the starting shot to more research.
Footnote: Mr Crampton seems to be a steady camera hand. There is no tripod, as far as I can see.

"The defense, intelligence, and diplomatic components of the government also have missions that are unique to them, not generally seen in corporations. For example, besides overt public affairs – the person behind the podium or the press release – there are also information operations designed “to shape the emotions, motives, reasoning, and behaviors of selected foreign entities.” So, in some cases, the military will use new media overtly, in other cases messages will be attributed to other entities (e.g., a foreign government partner), and in still others the messaging will not be traced back to the U.S. at all."

Government 2.0: An Insider’s Perspective

I've had been 3 years living in Beijing. I hate China Internet Connection, blocking wikipedia, youtube, facebook, twitter. China is arrogant, they made new websites almost the same as facebook, twitter, youtube. Blocking Warcraft Dotha, normal people cannot play games online there.

I hate China people, they don't even know how to QUEUE in KFC, McD or anything...

I hate China people, they don't even know what is called FREEDOM...

I hate China people, they become fooled by their own government...

I hate China people, because they always kicking or cold fighting with other Chinese people in the work environment...

I hate China people, they fooled us when we shopping. They made a shopping mall special for foreigner. It's not even cheap at all. Yes it's cheap for us, because in our country we can't get those products, but actually you can get it even more cheaper 70% down from the price that you say cheap. They fooled us.

I hate China people, they fooled us when shopping. If we can actually buy something for 100 RMB, they will open the price for 500 RMB, or 1000 RMB...they are f***ing hungry for money.

I hate China people, because all they know is about money...Everything is just money...They live for Money, even they save a lot of money in the Bank and some people never use them until they's really FOOL....

I hate China people, they do respect foreigners who are living in China because they want to fool us in the future...The government, especially...will fool us...They have something plan behind. You name it, sorry I can't tell.

Nobody can open a new company like "Banks, communication" or etc that can make you a lot of money....NO FREEDOM...NO DEMOCRACY...


In the late 90's and early 2000's I ran my own political forum that got about 100k posts per month. I blocked users with asian IP's but I saw this type of thing coming from western Canada and occassionaly from the western US. You can spot them by the topics they choose to interject themselves and their general lack of knowledge about other areas of American culture. Also, and this is somewhat humorous, trying to carry themselves off as a waspy American in ...Wisconsin or something, and not having correct grammar and sentence structure/syntax. But the key was their IP addresses, or using proxy servers and only posting about specific topics and ALWAYS having an anti-west/American pro-China view to the point that it is clearly .... propaganda.

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives