50 cent army
The Chinese 50 cent army (五毛) also 50 cent party or 50c party is the nickname given to Chinese internet trolls who post disinformation on various social media platforms in Chinese. English, and other languages. A 2021 report from the Jamestown Foundation claims the CCP holds 2 million paid internet commentators. It also has a network of 20 million part-time volunteers to carry out online trolling. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that the Chinese 50 cent Army makes about 450 million social media postings per year. After the CCP global pandemic outbreak, the 50 cent Army was particularly active on Facebook and Twitter, promoting the CCP propaganda war and attacking critics of socialism, communism, and totalitarianism.
According to the Epoch Times, the first stage was from 2004 to 2009, during which the CCP’s trolls mainly focused on the deletion of posts, sales and promotion, and advocacy of rights on behalf of others.
The second stage was from 2010 to 2013, which was the business development stage of the CCP’s trolls. In this stage, major internet troll companies began to act as public relations agents for individuals, enterprises, local CCP parties, government agencies, and the CCP’s nongovernmental institutions, to deal with online crises. During this stage, the 50 cent Army, civilian internet trolls hired by the CCP, started to appear on the internet to participate in public events.
The third stage was from 2014 to 2021, when the business transformed. In February 2014, the CCP officially established the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, under which is the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), or Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission. Five business sectors were established to work under the CAC: the Internet Commentary Work Bureau, the Internet Social Work Bureau, the Mobile Network Administration Bureau, the Internet Security Coordination Bureau, and the International Cooperation Bureau. Their responsibilities include internet opinion monitoring, management, control of the CCP’s internet trolls, public relations related to internet issues, overseas propaganda, and the CCP’s United Front Work Department.
Following the establishment of the CAC, it launched a cyber campaign to consolidate various independent civilian hackers and troll companies under its control. At the same time, the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) recruited tens of millions of university students to work as part-time internet trolls in major universities across the PRC, and the Central Committee of Political and Legal Affairs recruited millions of detainees in major prisons as full-time cyber trolls. In this way, cyber hackers and trolls have evolved from a “guerrilla army” into a “regular army” controlled by the CCP.
2018 Taiwan election interference
|"We received propaganda warfare coming from China for years, but this is taking a very different form,. It’s coming in not from newspapers or their propaganda machine but through our social media, online chat groups, Facebook, the zombie accounts set up, somewhere, by the Chinese government....It’s a more serious problem because China is so close to Taiwan, language-wise. They don’t have the cultural or language barrier and can easily fabricate news and they know the mentality of Chinese thinking, so it’s easier for them to orchestrate this misinformation.”|
False stories were traced to servers in the PRC and the Chinese Communist Party and it’s 50 Cent Army. Beijing has reached deep into Taiwan, sowing division and confusion through online disinformation, recruiting business figures, and funneling cash to pro-Beijing politicians.
Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California San Diego published a study in 2017 entitled How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument based on an archive of 43,757 emails leaked from the Internet Propaganda Office of Zhanggong, a district of Ganzhou City in Jiangxi province. The emails were copies of 50c army member posts to the Zhanggong Internet Propaganda Office claiming credit for completing their assignments. The study received funding from DARPA and the National Science Foundation.
The study found 99.3% of the 50c army are government employees posting from government websites and not, as is commonly believed, ordinary citizens paid piecemeal for their work. Of the 43,757 posts, only 281 were made by individuals or groups that could not be identified. The content of these posts was very similar to those that could be identified. The remaining were contributed from servers of over 200 government agencies throughout the district. This included 9,159 posts or 20.9% made directly by the Zhanggong Internet Propaganda Office and 2,343 (5.4%) by the Zhanggong district Bureau of Commerce. Others come from bureaus in the district (e.g., Sports Bureau, Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security, Bureau of Taxation, Zhanggong district court, and government offices of Zhanggong’s sub-districts and townships. The researchers hypothesize that the activity is a requirement of the government workers' existing job or possibly rewarded in performance reviews.
The postings were divided into six categories for the purposes of the study, (1) cheerleading and distraction, (2) factual news, (3) non-argumentative praise or suggestions, (4) argumentative praise or criticism (5) taunting of foreign countries (6) other personal posts, jokes, etc. More than half of all posts were cheerleading for China and party leaders as a distraction to other bad news. Factual news was about 18%. The remainder was non-argumentative praise or suggestions, such as improving housing and public welfare. Argumentative praise or criticism on controversial issues as part of a debate; praise (usually of the government) or criticism (usually of opponents of the government) taking a position or explaining why a particular viewpoint is correct or (more often) wrong. And taunting of foreign countries; favorable comparisons of China to other countries; insults to other countries; taunting of pro-democracy, pro-West, pro-individual liberties, or pro-capitalist opinions within China.
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