Monday December 10, 2018
Home World Fifty Cent Pa...

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

1
//
Chinese Government Office
Government Office of Shenyang, Wikimedia Commons
Republish
Reprint

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.

Related Article: Rising popularity MEA following on Social Media hits 3 Million mark

“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)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • 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.

Next Story

China Warns Canada Against Severe Consequences If Huawei CFO Isn’t Released

A Huawei spokesman said on Friday that the company had "every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach the right conclusion."

0
Huawei, China
A man lights a cigarette outside a Huawei retail shop in Beijing. VOA

China warned Canada on Saturday that there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s chief financial officer, calling the case “extremely nasty.”

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s global chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1 and faces extradition to the United States, which alleges that she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite sanctions. The executive is the daughter of the founder of Huawei.

If extradited to the United States, Meng would face charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, a Canadian court heard on Friday, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge.

Huawei, China
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s chief financial officer, is seen in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters. VOA

No decision was reached at the extradition hearing after nearly six hours of arguments and counterarguments, and the hearing was adjourned until Monday.

In a short statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said that Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng had issued the warning to release Meng to Canada’s ambassador in Beijing, summoning him to lodge a “strong protest.”

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Saturday that there was “nothing to add beyond what the minister said yesterday.”

Freeland told reporters on Friday that relationship with China was important and valued, and Canada’s ambassador in Beijing has assured the Chinese that consular access will be provided to Meng.

Good relationship

When asked about the possible Chinese backlash after the arrest of Huawei’s CFO, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday that Canada had a very good relationship with Beijing.

Huawei, China, Canada
The exterior of the Alouette Correctional Center for Women, where Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was being held on an extradition warrant, is seen in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada. VOA

Canada’s arrest of Meng at the request of the United States while she was changing planes in Vancouver was a serious breach of her lawful rights, Le said.

The move “ignored the law, was unreasonable” and was in its very nature “extremely nasty,” he added.

“China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained person, and earnestly protect their lawful, legitimate rights, otherwise Canada must accept full responsibility for the serious consequences caused.”

The statement did not elaborate.

“There will probably be a deep freeze with the Chinese in high-level visits and exchanges,” David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China, said on Friday. “The ability to talk about free trade will be put in the icebox for a while. But we’re going to have to live with that. That’s the price of dealing with a country like China.”

Trump-Xi meeting

Meng’s arrest came on the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump met in Argentina with China’s Xi Jinping to look for ways to resolve an escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Huawei, U.S., China
A woman walks past an advertisement for Huawei at a subway station in Hong Kong. VOA

“We are tracking the developments of this case and refer you to the filings in the Supreme Court of British Columbia,” said a U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The news of Meng’s arrest has roiled stock markets and drawn condemnation from Chinese authorities, although Trump and his top economic advisers have played down its importance to trade talks after the two leaders agreed to a truce.

Also Read: U.S. Sues Chinese Tech Executive Over Business Dealings With Iran

A Huawei spokesman said on Friday that the company had “every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach the right conclusion.” The company has said it complies with all applicable export control and sanctions laws and other regulations. (VOA)