China Allegedly Fabricates 488 Million Social Media Comments to Distract Netizens: Study
China is allegedly faking around 488 million comments on social media per year to distract netizens from negative and sensitive political issues, according to a study.
Researchers, led by Gary King, a political analyst from Harvard University, conducted a systematic test of China's Internet commentators called Fifty Cent Party, a group that many believe is paid by the government 50 Chinese cents for every positive comment posted.
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Instead of engaging actively to debates, the Fifty Cent Party usually draws the public's attention away from hot issues and emphasizes the Chinese government's positive state.
"In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense - stopping an argument is best done by distraction and changing the subject rather than more argument - but this had previously been unknown," King wrote in an email to Bloomberg.
What is surprising is that researchers found out that these comments allegedly posted by ordinary people are actually from government workers. They also found no hints that the workers were being paid, suggesting that dropping pro-government comments is compulsory and a part of their job description.
Moreover, the researchers revealed that nearly 50 percent of the positive comments were found on government websites, while some 80 billion are scattered across the Internet. This suggests that at least one in every 178 social media posts are composed by government employees.
Through the use of a customized computer code, King and his team managed to pull out 2,341 emails. Of these, over half had posts from Fifty Cent, totaling nearly 44,800 posts that created a benchmark for determining other propaganda-related posts. Fifty Cents members were identified by matching name from leaked emails with online social media profiles.
Based on the results, posts timing appear to have a coordinated control. Distracting posts from Fifty Cent Party typically appear after some kind of political or social turmoil occurs. And then, comments are usually "interesting, but innocuous and unrelated."
"The main threat perceived by the Chinese regime in the modern era is not military attacks from foreign enemies but rather uprisings from their own people," the researchers wrote.