The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not the only ruling party in China – sort of. What is known within China as the “Fifty Cent Party” is a cadre of loyal citizens hired to help circulate Party-happy messages online. The “members” of this party allegedly get paid 50 cents for each post they write, hence the name.
The “Fifty Cent Party” is not new; however, the government’s’ propaganda-tactics are back in the spotlight.
China is “flooding” social media with bogus posts in an effort to sway public opinion, a recent report said.
The paper which was published by a group of Harvard University academics led by Gary King from the university’s Department of Government draws upon leaked documents, elucidating how the Chinese government patrols and controls social media.
The government and its posse of helpers (forgers, really) write 488 fake posts a year, the report claims.
Most of the comments and posts made on Chinese social media sites are crafted to look like they come from ordinary people, the authors said.
The inordinate amount of false posts are carefully and strategically added at times when the web is busiest with online traffic or when a controversial issue is being widely debated, ensuring the fake comments are most effective.
The CCP is no fool, however. Instead of having these social-mediarites post blatantly Party-esque counter-arguments and rebuttals to critical posts by ordinary citizens, engaging them in a hot debate, many of the posts serve to change the subject, quelling any argument that might occur.
“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.
The report continued, “Letting an argument die, or changing the subject, usually works much better than picking an argument and getting someone’s back up.”
Along with this smart maneuver to distract, the government’s devoted army of employed posters are also used as “cheerleaders”, extolling the Communist Party’s achievements and history.
Harvard’s study used documents and spreadsheets leaked in 2014 that revealed names and online pseudonyms of people employed by the government. The scholars then extrapolated from this pool in an attempt to estimate the true scale of official activity on social media sites, the BBC reports.
The paper points out that there were good psychological reasons for using diversion strategies rather than censorship or out-right confutation.
The authors conclude their report, “Since censorship alone seems to anger people, the 50c astroturfing program [entailing creation of fake grassroots content] has the additional advantage of enabling the government to actively control opinion without having to censor as much as they might otherwise.”