Two million 'internet opinion analysts' employed to monitor China's vast online population
Government employees trawl through blogs and social media to dissect public opinion
Some two million people are employed by the Chinese government at all levels, as well as businesses, to monitor public opinion on Chinese social media, according to a report in Thursday’s Beijing News.
By trawling through blogs, microblog posts and social networks, these "Internet opinion analysts," most of them government employees, dissect public opinion on local issues and try to identify accusations of corruption and poor governance. They keep local leadership, from county to province, informed on a daily basis via text messages and written reports.
The Beijing-based newspaper took advantage of a seminar for these monitors, held in the capital in mid-October by the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Centre, a think tank-like unit of the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, to meet these usually anonymous local government staffers known as “online public opinion analysts”.
Even though the industry has been around for at least six years, the Ministry of Human Resources only listed their duties earlier this month as an official profession certified by the ministry’s China Employment Training Technical Instruction Centre.
Since 2008, the People’s Daily’s think tank has advised local governments to quicken the pace of issuing public statements and reacting to online debate and viral political statements. In 2011, it called on officials to react within the “four golden hours” after an incident, such a train crash or a riot, to provide information and prevent allegations of cover-ups.
One such analyst the Beijing News interviewed heads the public opinion monitoring office of a county in Henan province. Every day, the man with the pseudonym Yuan Ming would search his county’s name on Google and Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of the international search engine. Special software bought by the county at a cost of three million yuan alerts his office to trending topics on social media, according to the report.
Local Communist Party propaganda departments have for years employed contractors, known as wumao at a reported rate of 0.5 yuan paid for every online post, so they can monitor public opinion and counterbalance negative voices with positive ones, as well as slander those critical of the local or central government officials.
The certification of “public opinion monitors” has led many people online to quip that wumao have been given proper and government jobs, coveted by many for their job security.
“Who pays their salaries?” one person asked. “They use taxpayers’ money to suppress taxpayers’ voices,” wrote another.