Image credit: China Digital Times.
Members of China’s 50 Cent Party (五毛党, wǔmáodǎng) are so-called because they are allegedly paid 0.5 kuai per pro-China post they make about matters such as Taiwan, Tibet, or Chinese pro-democracy movements. If you’re unaware of what 50 Cent Party commenters look like, scroll down to the comments below any number of Shanghaiist posts.
Dissident artist par excellence, Ai Weiwei, recently sat down with one of these experts at “steer[ing] discussion away from anti-party content” (read: trolling). The interview was granted on the condition that the troll’s anonymity was preserved, and that he be given an iPad.
When and from where will you receive directives for work?
Almost every morning at 9am I receive an email from my superiors – the internet publicity office of the local government – telling me about the news we’re to comment on for the day. Sometimes it specifies the website to comment on, but most of the time it’s not limited to certain websites: you just find relevant news and comment on it.
Can you describe your work in detail?
In a forum, there are three roles for you to play: the leader, the follower, the onlooker or unsuspecting member of the public. The leader is the relatively authoritative speaker, who usually appears after a controversy and speaks with powerful evidence. The public usually finds such users very convincing. There are two opposing groups of followers. The role they play is to continuously debate, argue, or even swear on the forum. This will attract attention from observers. At the end of the argument, the leader appears, brings out some powerful evidence, makes public opinion align with him and the objective is achieved. The third type is the onlookers, the netizens. They are our true target “clients”. We influence the third group mainly through role-playing between the other two kinds of identity. You could say we’re like directors, influencing the audience through our own writing, directing and acting. Sometimes I feel like I have a split personality.
Can you tell us the content of the commentary you usually write?
The netizens are used to seeing unskilled comments that simply say the government is great or so and so is a traitor. They know what is behind it at a glance. The principle I observe is: don’t directly praise the government or criticise negative news. Moreover, the tone of speech, identity and stance of speech must look as if it’s an unsuspecting member of public; only then can it resonate with netizens. To sum up, you want to guide netizens obliquely and let them change their focus without realising it.
Read the fascinating interview in full at the New Statesman.
[H/T: Charlie Custer]