This is Part 3 of my opinion-molding series regarding the manipulation of online discourse.
I encourage you to read the first two here:
- The Covert Opinion-Molding Operations Part 1: Shills
- The Opinion-Molding Operations Part 2: Distortioners
We’ve addressed shills, distortioners (false flag agents), and moles.
In this article, we show how powerful these covert operations are in regards to online discourse. Specifically, we use China as our primary example, because they have perhaps the most well-known and extensive version of the shill/distortioner/mole trio.
A good introduction is provided by the Freedom House:
China’s growing army of paid internet commentators
Since 2005, observers of the Chinese blogosphere have noted the presence of users who are paid to support the authorities in online discussions, often referred to as the “50 Cent Party” for the alleged fee they collect for each posted comment. Several incidents in recent weeks have once again drawn domestic and international attention to this effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to manipulate public debate. Last month, the Propaganda Department in a small county in Hubei Province accidentally posted online a video showing local officials training progovernment internet commentators. The media quickly took interest in the revelation, which stipulated commentators’ duty to guide public opinion in a “constructive” way and engage the internet as “an important battlefield of ideology.” Meanwhile, at a seminar in Beijing at the end of September, the vice minister of public security said that the police should use microblogs as a communication platform to “release correct information and dispel misunderstandings.”
These incidents provide snapshots of a much broader phenomenon that reflects the decentralization and institutionalization of the CCP’s effort to inject the party line into online conversations. Unlike in other countries, the campaign is not an ad hoc effort to preserve the reputation of individual officials or perform short-term damage control. Instead it is a comprehensive CCP policy, accompanied by a vast system of trainings and rewards.
And this is what they do:
Such examples suggest a possible distinction between two kinds of state-supported internet commentator, though the line between them may be blurred in practice:
1. The “50 Cent Party” model – Private citizens are paid by the government to pretend to be “ordinary” netizens while in fact promoting the CCP line and seeking, in a nontransparent fashion, to guide public opinion in a particular direction.
2. The “Official PR” model – Government employees from a range of departments hone their public-relations skills in order to get the official message out to the public more quickly and effectively. In this case, the commentators’ identity is transparent, but the information conveyed could still be spun or blatantly deceptive. Moreover, there remains the possibility that these government workers might also engage in online conversations under assumed identities, thereby crossing over to something more closely resembling the “50 Cent Party” model.
Wherein the mix of these act as all of what we have previously described in the prior articles:
Lets go further:
Other testimonies highlight the fact that the posts do not only praise or support the CCP and government policy, but also target government critics with negative remarks. Other forms of misdirection involve deliberate attempts to muddy the facts of a particular incident—for example, a false eyewitness can contradict the account of a netizen reporting a case of police abuse.
- Targeting the enemy with negative remarks? Shilling.
- Deliberate attempts to muddy the facts? Distortioner.
- False eyewitness? Mole.
In July 2008, David Bandurski of Hong Kong University reported that there were an estimated 280,000 paid web commentators of the “50 Cent Party” variety. At the time, China was home to about 250 million internet users. Three years later, the number of users has doubled to 500 million, according to official figures. Meanwhile, trainings for government employees preparing to engage in online public-relations efforts have expanded.
The question thus arises: Is there now an army of over 560,000 private citizens being paid by the government to manipulate discussions on the Chinese internet? And, extrapolating from the level of participation in the official trainings, are an additional several hundred thousand government employees injecting CCP-dictated information and views into the blogosphere?
Regardless of its exact size, the phenomenon described here amounts to a propaganda exercise of staggering proportions. Rather than fostering an open dialogue with Chinese citizens, the project is aimed at deceiving them into thinking that public support for the CCP and its policies is much more prevalent than it actually is, and that abuses like corruption and torture are much less common than they are in reality.
Imagine that: over half a million people just being paid to distort our online conversations.
It is funny, in that the writer of this article does not seem to grasp that this very thing is happening in democratic nations. They claim, rather ridiculously, that it doesn’t exist in democracy because “They would also be unnecessary for a democratic government, since elected leaders have genuine supporters willing to defend them on the internet free of charge, and the population can turn to a free press, rather than self-proclaimed “fellow citizens,” to verify officials’ public statements“
Which, as my readers know, is complete garbage logic. The press is far from free, the supporters are imaginary, and no one can verify officials “public statements” because they’re all in on the cabal.
But, the author did nail it for China. They also nailed it on how pervasive and damaging it is. Even if they don’t recognize it happening to themselves, as well.
The “50 cent party” exists within the Western world. They are funded by the globalist agents that lord over us. They just have a different name.
In newer studies, the revelations are even more damning. They are much heavier on distortion than they are on shilling (in China, specifically). Naturally, this is an academic study (where much Chinese infiltration has already occurred), so take it with a grain of salt. But it does have interesting insight:
In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We show that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.
We discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship
program, and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of
“common knowledge” and information control in authoritarian regimes.
What’s the goal? Isn’t it obvious?:
The original story — independently reported by Guangzhou Daily, Southern Metropolis Daily, China News Service, the Information Times and Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News — quoted the head of Guangzhou’s City Inspectors Committee (广州城管委), Li Yangui (李廷贵), as saying at an awards ceremony that the Guangzhou committee would build a system of internet commentators, “working together with relevant departments to strengthen processing and monitoring of online public opinion.”
The goal, Li said (invoking the old media control buzzword of “guidance”), would be to “track and analyze online public opinion, preventing the spread of undesirable information and thereby generating positive guidance of public opinion.”
Distortioners and shills are awash in “democratic” countries, as well. They are not exclusive to China:
A new generation of trolls are officially employed by governments, with the Chinese government employing up to two million. Jemimah Steinfeld reports on the new global trend
VITALY BESPALOV BECAME a Russian troll because he had lost his job in St Petersburg and was short of money. A journalist by trade, he was searching for content management jobs.
The office where he was – pretty from the outside but like a “poor Russian hospital inside” – had around 200 employees. His boss, aged 30, had previously worked as a journalist. Bespalov thought she didn’t like her job, but as time went on he saw she was “very involved”. Most people, though, were “normal”. They were young and, like him, attracted to the money (paid in cash, tax-free and better than the average St Petersburg salary).
Bespalov’s story is far from unusual. But what is new in 2018 is that these people are now going on the state payroll.What’s new is a recent Freedom of the Net report from Freedom House showed a significant rise in the number of governments using “paid pro-government commentators” to shape opinion online. Authoritarian governments have realised that if you can’t beat them, join them; namely, if activists are going to launch revolutions and social movements via social media, so too will autocrats – and they’ll make it financially enticing.
Recent Harvard University research from Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E Roberts analysed that the Chinese government’s aim was to distract the public and ignore controversial issues. These people are known as wu mao, or 50 cent party members, because they are rumoured to be paid 50 renminbi cents per pro-China post. When the groundbreaking Harvard study investigated China’s wu mao, it found that the people who were creating the social media posts were government employees of all ages and backgrounds. China leads the world here, employing millions of people with this in their job description.
“These 50 cent party workers [are] not arguing against people arguing against the government. They’re cheer-leading. They are filling the internet with drivel.” In his report, King labels this “strategic distraction”.
Meanwhile in poverty-stricken Venezuela, a leaked government report from 2017 revealed plans for a project to set up a troll army with a military structure. One of its recruitment tactics is to reward people, who sign up to run Twitter and Instagram accounts, with food coupons, the value of which go up according to how much people post, and where.
In Mexico, one troll told internet activist and journalist Alberto Escorcia that he had been paid 50,000 pesos (around $2,500) an hour to run up to 150 accounts against Mexico’s #YaMeCansé [Enough, I’m tired] protests, which swept the country in the wake of the disappearance of 43 students in 2014; another hacker, Andrés Sepúlveda, boasted publicly that Mexico’s government paid him more than half a million US dollars to help secure Peña Nieto’s victory, using 30,000 Twitter bots.
India’s social media is also awash with information spread by trolls. Swati Chaturvedi, journalist and author of I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, has met several people who work in the industry. She told Index that the typical troll was motivated by money “because there is a huge unemployment crisis in India, and if you have an education there are not that many job opportunities”.
“It’s like what Hannah Arendt says in the Banality of Evil,” she added. “They were extremely ordinary people, they were like call centre workers. Only their job was to spew hate and abuse and make threats all day.”
“States have shifted from seeking to curtail online activity to attempting to profit from it, motivated by a realisation that the data individuals create and disseminate online itself constitutes information translatable into power,” it said.
Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines’ president, admitted to paying trolls during his election campaign. He denied using them once in office, but various media outlets have linked accounts used during his election campaign to ones which were active afterwards. The Duterte government “has even elevated bloggers and social media influencers acting as trolls to positions within the government”, said the Institute for the Future report.
Does Chaturvedi believe the trend will get better? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s troll army has already increased threefold in the lead up to next year’s general elections, she says. “Unfortunately, the genie has been uncorked and I don’t think [it] can be put back in the bottle.”
Are these not perfect examples of my prior articles in action? In China, Russia, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Philippines, and plenty of others…
Shills operate spreading hate, anger, and violence to get people to back down, not comment, not contribute, and feel defeated.
Distortioners operate to siphon public opinion, change narratives, and distort every story into whatever is beneficial for their ringleaders.
Moles are planted to find out sensitive information to benefit the aforementioned two groups.
This is happening in every country around the world, nonstop. It is like clockwork. This is why you cannot trust online comments or online discourse. You cannot trust what appears to be “majority” opinion.
It is all distorted, heavily.
Most in Western countries are blind to it because they feel it cannot happen here. But our financial elites finance this just as easily here as it is done abroad.
In many ways, it is actually easier for them. They are not directly government and are thus out of the spotlight and not directly accountable to anyone. They can hide it far better than a government official. They are operating in the shadows, with millions of dollars, to shape your opinion online.
This is why decentralized platforms can never be sustainable in a nation that is being centralized by financial elite. They have unlimited funds to hire people to destroy, distort, and shill against the decentralized options.
They do this while being hidden. It can be as simple as hiring tens of thousands of people to go onto a conservative platform and push for pro-abortion stances. Or pro-transsexual stances “in moderation”. Or pro-gun control “but only some parts of it”. They are designed to spend time and effort in building up online relationships to later pervert the narrative in their favor. They have hundreds of accounts to do so. Some outright violent shilling, some moles, and some distortioners. All work together to shape your own personal opinion and force the “majority opinion” in a different direction.
To fight back, we must have some form of centralization to remove the distortioners and shills from operating within our own units. We have to deny them the microphone. Without doing so, they will outnumber and outflank us.
We cannot compete with people that are literally paid to destroy us 24/7 with millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of bodies.
Instead, we have to call them out and remove them.
Delete their comments. Call them out. Remove their infiltration. Educate others to do the same. That’s how we can fight them.
The next article in this series will have further information on combatting these agents on the ground.
But to start, we have to make sure everyone realizes what they are up against and why certain tactics will not work.
We have to educate our team on the sheer level and pervasiveness of this problem.
Share this article with everyone that does not know these facts. We can’t beat them if we can’t see them. And you can’t see them until you know to start looking for them.
Once you know, they become far easier to spot. And then, to fight.