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Fifty Cent Party: Chinese government employs huge group of internet workers

The name originates from a popular rumor - never substantiated - that such people are paid 50 cents per pro-government post

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Chinese Government Office
Government Office of Shenyang, Wikimedia Commons
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China’s government fabricates and posts several hundred million social media posts a year to influence public opinion about the country, according to a new paper by U.S. researchers examining one of the most opaque aspects of the Communist Party’s rule.

The academic study led by Harvard political scientist Gary King claims to be one of the first in-depth looks into the inner workings of China’s push to influence public opinion by flooding social media with posts portrayed as if they were coming from ordinary people.

Aside from possessing highly sophisticated censorship controls to find and delete content outright, China’s government has long been known to employ a huge group of internet workers, known colloquially as the “Fifty Cent Party,” to influence discourse in subtler ways. The name originates from a popular rumor – never substantiated – that such people are paid 50 cents per pro-government post.

File:UK-China People to People Dialogue (7083960927).jpg
source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The research project, which took advantage of a trove of government emails, spreadsheets and work reports from a propaganda office in central China leaked online in 2014, concludes that an estimated 488 million fake posts a year “enables the government to actively control opinion without having to censor as much as they might otherwise.”

The researchers also reached a slightly surprising conclusion about the goal of the massive operation: to “distract the public” during politically sensitive news events. That counters the widespread perception that Beijing employs internet workers to shut down its critics on online forums.

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“They do not step up to defend the government, its leaders, and their policies from criticism, no matter how vitriolic; indeed, they seem to avoid controversial issues entirely,” the paper’s authors write. “Letting an argument die, or changing the subject, usually works much better than picking an argument and getting someone’s back up.”

The paper detailed an elaborate methodology used by the research team, which employed its own army of research assistants. After gaining a glimpse into how China’s “Fifty Cent” operation organizes itself from leaked documents, the research group created numerous fake accounts of their own to ask large samples of suspected government workers an elaborate set of questions to confirm that the posters were indeed getting guidance from authorities.

One of the three co-authors, Margaret Roberts from the University of California, San Diego, said in an email that examining leaked documents or interviewing former participants could offer a biased view of the operation, but “large-scale statistical analyses of online data allow us to directly observe and summarize what people within the system are doing.”

The trio of political scientists, which also included Stanford University’s Jennifer Pan, has been using statistical methods for years to study China’s methods of information control, sometimes reaching somewhat unexpected conclusions.

In a 2014 study sifting through social media posts, they found that Chinese censors allowed netizens a significant amount of freedom to vent their frustrations with the government – until any calls for organized action that could lead to street protests appeared. Those were swiftly taken down. (VOA)

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  • Pritam Go Green

    No wonder why USA is worried about China so much. The pace at which it is emerging as a Asian superpower is simply commendable.

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China And Russia Accused of Manipulating Their Currencies By Trump

Donald Trump to accuse China and Russia as their currency manipulators

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Donald Trump is the President of U.S.
FILE IMAGE- Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday it is unacceptable that Russia and China are devaluating their currencies, days after the Treasury Department declined to label these countries as currency manipulators in its latest report.

Amid a possible new round of sanctions against Russia and a simmering trade war with China, Trump tweeted Monday morning, “Russia and China are playing the Currency Devaluation game as the U.S. keeps raising interest rates. Not acceptable!

In general, when a country artificially devaluates its currency, its exports become cheaper and more competitive in the global marketplace.

The currencies of U.S, China and Russia.
FILE – The U.S. dollar, Indonesian rupiah and Chinese renminbi currencies are displayed in the poster of a money exchange shop in Jakarta, June 12, 2013. VOA

During his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly accused China of lowering the value of its currency and vowed to formally label China as a currency manipulator, but so far has failed to do so.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the administration is closely watching China’s currency practices. “That’s something that the Treasury Department is watching very closely and we’re continuing to monitor it,” she said Monday.

In a semiannual report titled “Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States” released last Friday, the Treasury Department did not designate China as a currency manipulator, but put it as one of the six countries on a monitoring list. The other five countries on the list are Japan, Korea, India, Germany, and Switzerland. Russia is not on the monitoring list. The Chinese currency, the renminbi, has appreciated over 3 percent against the dollar since the beginning of this year, after strengthening by over 6 percent in 2017.

Also Read: Trump: US ‘Being Stolen’ by Illegal Migrants

Brad Setser,a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Treasury Department official said in an interview with VOA he does not think it is an accurate complaint that Russia and China are playing the currency game.

“The Russian ruble was actually quite stable before the sanctions on Russia were intensified. It’s quite clear the volatility in the ruble is a function of the intensification of U.S. sanctions, a sign that the sanctions are biting,” he explained.

Setser said over the past several months, the Chinese yuan has actually appreciated, and China has not been intervening heavily.

“There are plenty of things to criticize China for on trade, but right now, there’s no real basis for criticizing China on currency,” he noted.

Russia's Central Bank Chief.
Russia’s Central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina presents the new 2,000 and 200 ruble banknotes in Moscow on Oct. 12, 2017. VOA

In the past three years, the Federal Reserve raised interest rate six times to a range between 1.5 percent and 1.75 percent, and said they expect to raise the rate two or three more times this year.

Usually, when a country raises its interest rates, the value of its currency rises, making its exports more expensive and less competitive. However, higher U.S. interest rates have not raised the value of the dollar.

“The interesting puzzle that the market has been pondering for the past several months is that the dollar has actually weakened even as the U.S. has raised rates, and even as U.S. passed legislation to expand the fiscal deficit,” Setser said.

Also Read: This Way China Can Help India In The Terms of Artificial Intelligence

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Economic Analysis at the Treasury Department Setser stressed the United States should not label China as a currency manipulator at this moment.

“It would undermine the United States’ credibility to name China at a point in time when there is no plausible case that China is managing its exchange rate in a way that is adverse to the U.S. interest,” he said.  VOA