Surfing the forums and bulletin boards, the active netizen cannot help but run into them. They are the most vehement voice supporting China, the Chinese government and all of its policies. They attack in large numbers; attempting to change the tide of public opinion, and sometimes they succeed. I’m of course talking about the 50 cent Party (Wu Mao Dang).
The 50 Centers are a government trained and sponsored group of internet commentators who engage in astroturfing on behalf of the Chinese government. “Astroturfing” for the uninitiated, is a term used to describe the public relations campaigns that are designed to look like grassroots movements; however in reality they are extensively planned by PR managers, or in this case government officials. The term “50 Cent Party” was originally coined by the BBC in reference to the pay that each member of the 50 Cent Party receives per post (50 mao/ Chinese cents). Although the total number of 50 Centers is not actually known speculation places their total numbers as low as 12,000 and as high as 300,000. Conspiracy theorists worldwide raise a red flag, denouncing the 50 Centers ability to sway public opinion not only in China but abroad as well. Yet, with the thousands of commentators at their disposal some are left to wonder; how effective are the 50 Centers?
Consider this, despite their impressive numbers the 50 Centers have their hands full dealing with dissent within China’s borders. It is widely known that University students are hired to monitor and sway the opinions of their peers on the college message board. Also, ordinary citizens frequently place numerous back-to-back messages to turn the tide on general message boards. However, these commentators are not the one cohesive body everyone believes it to be. The internet commentators are dispersed amongst different regions and provinces to provide support more for local governments than anyone else. Also, one cannot underestimate the opinion of the Chinese netizen. On more than one occasion I have personally seen adamant supporters of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) or other “pro-nationalist” opinions be quickly written off as 50 Centers. Public suspicion of the group itself actually hurts the group’s activities due to this easy absorption of responsibility.
So what can we learn from this information? Well simply put, there is nothing to fear from Big Brother, at least on the forums.