Thursday, December 25, 2008

BBC on the Fifty-Centers

[They] need to possess relatively good political and professional qualities, and have a pioneering and enterprising spirit

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.

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.

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Here is a post and comments by a guy who commented not long ago on your blog. His anger at being labeled a CCP spy is interesting, especailly considering his interlocutor never labels him one. How emotionally rich a sense of victimhood must feel! So rich that one tries to force it into existence when it's unavailable. Interesting, too, are the stunned replies of the interlocutor as he tries to make sense of this psychosis.

Anonymous said...

The guy who posted on your blog called himself Charles Liu, "community organizer" in the Seattle area, but in the blog and the post pasted above he is "Bobby Fletcher."

Tim Maddog said...

Deep thought: There are probably more trolls in/from China than there are people in Taiwan.

Kudos to Michael Bristow for that piece -- with a Beijing byline, even!

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

As a former community organizer with the Seattle Taiwanese community... Charles Liu does not exist in Seattle as any significant or meaningful member of the community. BOGUS!

Dixteel said...

I have observe this phenomenon for quite a while on the internet forum etc, but I wasn't totally sure. Now a major news organization seems to pick up on it...that's good, and confirm my suspicion.

A lot of people say the Internet is going to change China for the better etc, similar to the argument that making China rich is going to make China a democracy. Those type of arguments have been there for quite some time now, and I would say they are BS. Those people don't seem to realize Chinese government would use the internet and its economy as domestic and international political weapons.

les said...

I do wonder what the eventual target is. Is the CCP going to be satisfied with complete control of domestic discussion and accept 'running interference' on the rest of the world? Or are we going to see so many 50-centers in the non-Chinese internet that they make discussion outside of the party line impossible?

Anonymous said...

The Chinese government are not the only ones involved in brainwashing the public. The invasion of Iraq was facilitated by US media 'fifty centers'. Blogs were instrumental too in electing Obama. On a smaller scale perhaps, you will find Little-Rowling-Fifty-Centers hoodwinking the general public via blogs concerning the true origins of the Harry Potter series and to jeopardize the present litigation mounted against her by the estate of the late author, Adrian Jacobs.

Chububobcat said...

As an active user on the Yahoo Answers Taiwan and China travel sections, I have seen so many "trolls" that are under the leadership of one account BSherman, and from the massive number of ignorant and illogical, groundless half truths and full lies that they regurgitate about Taiwan (people, culture, etc), Taiwan's sovereignty, the factual history of China, the US, Canada everything else. That they have started to make an effect on the general users who pass through. Ever since the ECFA they have been kicking into overdrive saying that it is an economic reunification treaty. Which is obvious BS, but it is causing people who dont know the full truth to start questioning Taiwan. 50 centers are Trolls no 2 ways about it, and even if people who know the truth ignore them they continue to post their ignorance and the people who have limited knowledge or no knowledge about actual current or historic events are being bombarded with such ignorant propaganda start to believe them as real credible people.
The best option is to overwhelm them with undeniable factual evidence that they can't counter with anything but ignorant spam.

a couple links to some of the of 50centers ramblings (all on Yahoo answers)
here is another aspect of 50 centers on Yahoo Answers, they will Ask a Question and in reply to themselves choosing their own answers.
however most of the time they post links to WaPo, the WSJ, or Chinadaily to attempt to support their claims.