A new study outlines in detail how China censors and fabricates social media posts to subtly promote the Communist Party’s rule. Chinese Government has historically engaged in propaganda and censorship, but the extent and the modern machine of propaganda has been exposed in a new paper by US researchers.
The country has a team of internet workers, known as the “Fifty Cent Party,” that create pro-government social media posts. The team is paid 50 cents per post and these are portrayed as if they are coming from real citizens.
The study by Harvard political scientist Gary King took a closer look at the Chinese government emails, spreadsheets and reports that were leaked online in 2014. From these, researchers determined that the government had been responsible for sharing an estimated 488 million fabricated social media posts a year.
Even though the government also censors content on social media platforms, the overwhelming posting by the Fifty Cent Party “enables the government to actively control opinion without having to censor as much as they might otherwise” as reported in the study.
These posts are also used as a way to “distract the public” when a politically charged news event happens.
Also the posts are cleverly crafted to not be so obviously supportive of the Communist party.
“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,” wrote the paper’s authors. “Letting an argument die, or changing the subject, usually works much better than picking an argument and getting someone’s back up.”
The authors created several of their own fake accounts to reach out these former government workers to prove that they were given directives from government authorities to create these fake posts.
The researchers have been investigating this issue for years. Interestingly enough, in 2014 a study found that Chinese censors wouldn’t automatically delete a user’s comments when they publicly voiced frustrations about the government. The types of posts that were censored were the particularly heated ones that could potentially escalate to protests.
Editor’s Note: One really doesn’t consider propaganda in Chine much anymore, we tend to believe since they seem to be headed toward a market economy, they would liberalize their political system as well. This study show the totalitarianism of the Chinese government still remains.