Chinese State Media Calls on Public to 'Be a Force For Good' Online

A Chinese netizen uses Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging service of Sina, in a rural village in southwest China's Guizhou province, Dec. 15, 2012.

An article in a state newspaper on Tuesday urged China's netizens to "be good online citizens" and report online critics of the country's ruling Communist Party, in a move that commentators liken to the ideological campaigns of the Mao era.

A signed article in the Global Times, which has close links to party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said China's 642 million Internet users should be "good netizens" and a "force for good."

"We need young netizens to shoulder the responsibility of morality and consciously practice socialist core values online," the paper said in the signed opinion article.

"Instead of being a silent majority ... a good netizen should dare to be a member of the 50-cent army ... to bring a positive voice to the Internet and help to spread the power of mainstream values," it said.

In March 2014, the authorities announced a certified training course for Internet propagandists, who are paid to manipulate public opinion by posting and retweeting comments favorable to the regime.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last year set up the National Online Public Opinion Management Skills Proficiency Test Center, which tests aspiring 50-centers on skills like directing online discussions of "mass incidents" of civil unrest and rioting that are a common occurrence in today's China.

They are also tested on managing the influence of "Big V" tweeters, with huge followings on popular microblogging platforms like Sina Weibo, who have been warned by the government to exhibit "social responsibility" after some posted comments highly critical of the government.

China recently launched a new recruitment drive for human censors to help maintain the complex system of blocks, filters and manual censorship known loosely as the "Great Firewall," which controls what people can see online.

One of the state agencies involved in suppressing undesirable online content, the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, placed a job advertisement last month calling for fresh recruits to its team of monitors.

The center aims to "maintain order" on China's tightly controlled Internet, to "safeguard the interests" of users and to "build a healthy, orderly civilization in cyberspace."

'Beyond shameless'

However, many Chinese netizens are openly dismissive of pro-government commentators, poking fun at the "50-cent" army, who are said to be paid 50 yuan cents (less than U.S. $0.01) per tweet.

Some are hired to write pro-government comments, while others are paid to flag "undesirable" online content to organizations for censorship or possibly prosecution.

Online activist Wu Bin, known by his online nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said the party is increasingly expecting Chinese citizens to toe the line when it comes to online opinion.

"The Global Times thinks that singing the praises of the party and flattery are the same as being a force for good in the world," Wu said. "They have turned something shameful into something glorious."

"This is beyond shameless," he said. "It's like imperial times, when everyone had to say how wonderful the emperor was from morning until night."

Former Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao said the article shows the resurgence of Mao-era political thinking, however.

"Are they calling for another Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, perhaps," Jiao said. "I think this article represents an ill wind that is blowing [in Chinese politics]."

"We could say it is an example of Maoist thinking spreading unchecked," he said. "But it won't work; even the Berlin Wall had to come down."

"A broken stone can't stop the Yangtze river from flowing to the sea."

Online commentator @anhuizhangyidong said the main criteria for being a "good netizen" in China were refraining from criticizing the behavior of local governments and obeying orders from their propaganda departments.

"It's about preserving the image of local governments," the user said.

Recent crackdown

China has cracked down on a number of high-profile journalists and tweeters in recent months, under new rules forbidding online rumors, even in a retweet.

On Sept. 1, 2013, China's highest judicial authorities issued a directive criminalizing online "rumor-mongering," in a move widely seen as targeting critical comments and negative news on the country's hugely popular social media sites.

Rights groups say the government has stepped up the level of official control over freedom of expression to include criticisms of the government that are merely implied.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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