Extract from internal document produced by Nanning city authority, Guangxi province
BBC has an article on what those of us who are active on the internet have long known: that China pays people to invade the net and post apologetics for its authoritarianism, colonialism, and imperialism:
But cyberspace - where views can be expressed instantly and anonymously - is not as easy to control as traditional news outlets.The great thing about these apologists is that being politically correct by Chinese standards means they are totally irrational and ignorant by any reasonable standard -- easy to spot whether paid or not. Their purpose is not so much to win arguments as it is to constantly bombard people with nonsense with they will eventually come to treat as credible, if not to believe -- the real secret to successful propaganda is not quality but repetition -- people will believe anything they hear over and over and, if caught young enough, incorporate it into their identities as fundamental truth, making it difficult to root out.
Comments, rumours and opinions can be quickly spread between internet groups in a way that makes it hard for the government to censor.
So instead of just trying to prevent people from having their say, the government is also attempting to change they way they think.
To do this, they use specially trained - and ideologically sound - internet commentators.
They have been dubbed the "50-cent party" because of how much they are reputed to be paid for each positive posting (50 Chinese cents; $0.07; £0.05).
"Almost all government departments face criticism that is beyond their control," said Xiao Qiang, of the University of California at Berkeley.
"There is nothing much they can do, other than organise their own spinning teams to do their public relations," said the journalism professor, who monitors China.
My own view is that the way to deal with 50 centers is to simply point out to other forum participants that this poster is behaving like a 50 center and move on. Don't waste time arguing with them or replying to specific points. That is how they win and you lose.
UPDATE: I should also add two other things. The Chinese gov't knows it can't keep stuff out -- the 50 centers are there to shape the reception of things in the desired direction, to make that when things enter they go in the right pigeonholes and are thought about in approved ways. However, consider what internet fora must be like in China now, where everyone not only has to worry about government censors but also must be suspicious that anyone who approves of government policy -- and there must be many sensible policies in China -- might be a paid poster. Congratulations, Beijing, you've discredited your supporters.