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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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Swara Bhaskar Feels That Social Media Must Have Civil Conduct

Swara, who featured in web series "It's Not That Simple", said: "I am doing very interesting work in the web space. I am very excited. I think the web space is a new space

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Swara Bhaskar
We should have a civil conduct on social media: Swara. flickr

Known for speaking her mind, actress Swara Bhasker, who has often been a victim of trolling and online bullying, says like any other public sphere, social media should also have a civil conduct.

Asked if social media bullying bothers her, Swara told IANS here: “It used to bother me in the beginning when it happened and I felt very hurt. I felt it was very unjust… Then I realised life is unjust. They are not doing it out of a sense of justice, but doing it from a place of viciousness, hatred or genuine malintent. So what would you do about that? They have no identity. I became inured to it.”

Swara added that “social media is a virtual public sphere and like other public spaces we should have a civil conduct on social media. It is a virtual public space”.

The 30-year-old made her debut in filmdom in 2010 with “Madholal Keep Walking”. She was then seen in “Raanjhanaa”, “Tanu Weds Manu”, “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”, “Nil Battey Sannata”, “Anaarkali of Aarah”, “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” and “Veere Di Wedding”.

Talking about the kind of work she wants to do now, Swara said: “I am at a strange point… because after ‘Nil Battey Sannata’, ‘Anarkali’ and ‘Veere Di Wedding’, I am like ‘What should my next script be?’ I don’t know how to up that because I feel the standards have become too high for scripts. I have not signed a film after ‘Veere Di Wedding’.”

Swara Bhaskar-starrer “Nil Battey Sannata”, which portrays an account of a single parent acting as a residential guarantee that her little girl gets great instruction, is having a decent keep running in the cinema world.
A look from Swara Bhaskar-starrer “Nil Battey Sannata”, which portrays an account of a single parent acting as a residential guarantee that her little girl gets great instruction. Flickr

Over her nine-year-journey in Bollywood, Swara has essayed relatable characters like Chanda from “Nil Battey Sannata” or Bindiya from “Raanjhanaa”.

“I have been very lucky also with the kind of roles I have been given or that I have landed even if they have been in the supporting category or protagonist roles…. I can’t control what I am offered but I can control what I choose. So, I am very careful of what I choose.”

The actress said she is “dying” to do the movies based on dancing around the trees “but now the dancing around the trees in Switzerland is not happening. So, I feel like I am 20 years late in the industry”.

Does she aspire to do something more?

“There is a lot of stuff I still want to do and I hope that I am able to do that in whatever I do next. I think as an artiste, you can never be satisfied because satisfaction means the beginning of the death of an actor. I don’t want to be satisfied. I hope that my ambition always stays unsatiated,” she added.

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So what’s next?

Swara, who featured in web series “It’s Not That Simple”, said: “I am doing very interesting work in the web space. I am very excited. I think the web space is a new space. It’s offering a lot of exciting and new work and I am holding on to my time for films because I want the next one to be very special.” (IANS)