Chinese authorities have 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 ordinary 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 on Thursday calling for fresh recruits to its team of monitors, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The center, which 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," is looking for applicants aged 18 and above who are committed to the development of a healthy online environment.
Applicants should have "a high level of social responsibility" and already have carried out such work "in their spare time," it said.
U.S.-based rights activist Liu Qing said the advertisement is a sign that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is expanding the "50-cent army," which helps control online content.
"The fact that the Chinese authorities are looking for so-called 'monitors' means that the ranks of the 50-cent army are expanding," Liu said.
"They want these people to monitor online content, as well as create fake content and spread rumors that benefit the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
He said Internet "monitors" also played a role in gathering information to charge people with Internet-related offenses.
"There will be plenty more framing [of netizens], which will intensify social divisions," Liu said.
"We believe that the main duty of these monitors will be to report opinions that are at odds with the party line, or which is critical of the party and the Chinese government," he said.
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 on Sept. 1 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.
According to the advertisement, Internet monitors may work from home, but will need to submit at least five reports daily of "illegal content" to the Center.
Bonuses will be offered monthly to high-performing monitors, including those who report "serious violations" of the law or any reports leading to a criminal conviction, it said.
"Not many people in China right now are willing to work for the Communist Party," Liu said. "So they are relying on financial incentives to persuade them."
The Center said in September it had received 40,217 "effective" reports of illegal Internet content, of which more than 28,000 were pornographic, and more than 9,000 fraudulent.
It paid out bonuses worth 280,000 yuan (U.S. $45,000) to 160 informants, it said.
Earlier this year, 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 recently set up the National Online Public Opinion Management Skills Proficiency Test Center, which has a website at www.npst.org.cn, Xinhuanet said in an announcement on its website this week.
The program aims to train aspiring 50-centers how to covertly direct online discussions on "mass incidents" of civil unrest and rioting that are a common occurrence in today's China.
They also receive training in 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.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.