Caption: Chinese Communist propaganda initiatives on the Web represent a shift from traditional censorship-based methods.
China’s ruling Communist Party is engaged in an extensive effort to police and influence the Internet using thousands of pro-government Web commentators. Up to 280,000 Party-backed monitors, otherwise known as the “red vests”, the “red vanguard” or the “Fifty Cent Party” (they receive 50 mao – seven US cents – for each post they make) are, trained and financed by the party to infiltrate and police the Chinese Internet.
“They set out to neutralize undesirable public opinion by pushing pro-Party views through chat rooms and Web forums, reporting dangerous content to authorities,” according to analyst David Bandurski. This new approach – outsourcing Web control to teams of pro-government stringers – represents a radical shift from the regime’s traditional propaganda techniques based on censorship.
Bandurski describes the Web commentators, who must pass an exam before being formally certified, as front line shock troops in what the Communist Party sees as a global war for public opinion, a ‘soft power’ conflict in which it has recently been less than successful. Their emergence reflects the Party’s conviction that modern media, have “usurped political parties as the primary means of political participation.”
“Historically speaking, the greatest strength of the CCP has been in carrying out ideological work among the people. Now, however, the notion of ‘doing ideological work’ has lost its luster,” notes one analyst. “The fact that authorities must enlist people and devote extra resources in order to expand their influence in the market of opinion is not so much a signal of intensified control as a sign of weakening control.”
In any event, as China Digital Times reports, the country’s chatrooms and blogosphere are still contested terrain, as Chinese “netizens” are finding imaginative and creative ways to bypass Webfirewalls and other forms of e-censorship.
Elsewhere, authoritarian forces are adopting cruder tactics. The former Soviet republics of Lithuania and Georgia suffered foreign cyber attacks over the weekend. Russian hackers are believed to have been responsible for similar incidents earlier this year when several official websites were hacked into and defaced with Soviet symbols and anti-Lithuanian slogans, following the parliament’s decision to ban the use of Nazi and Soviet insignia.
While the Chinese Communist Party’s Web policing operation shows notable sophistication, the regime still resorts to repressive measures of chilling brutality, as a recent Washington Post story confirms:
“Shortly after dawn on July 9, the local government here bused several thousand students and office workers into a public square and lined them up in front of a vocational school. As the spectators watched, witnesses said, three prisoners were brought out. Then, an execution squad fired rifles at the three point-blank, killing them on the spot.
The young men had been convicted of having connections to terrorist plots, which authorities said were part of a campaign aimed at disrupting the Beijing Olympics by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an underground separatist organization here in the vast Xinjiang region of western China.”