Abstract of a study: The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity. 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. From a CNET article, titled, Chinese media told to ‘shut down’ talk that makes country look bad: Being an internet business in China appears to be getting tougher. Chinese broadcasters, including social media platform Weibo, streamer Acfun and media company Ifeng were told to shut down all audio and visual content that cast the country or its government in bad light, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television posted on its website on Thursday, saying they violate local regulations. “[The service providers] broadcast large amounts of programmes that don’t comply with national rules and propagate negative discussions about public affairs. [The agency] has notified all relevant authorities and … will take measures to shut down these programmes and rectify the situation,” reads the statement.
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