China's control over access to the internet is hardly a secret, but the government is not just interested in using the famous Great Firewall of China to limit what its citizens can see. State monitoring of internet usage is very common, and the government also has a propaganda machine in place, manipulating the country via the web.
A new study by researchers at Harvard University suggests that governmental interference online could be even more prolific than first thought. Social media has been infiltrated and is believed to have been taken over by paid trolls whose job it is to inject pro-government, pro-regime, pro-Communist Party posts disguised as genuine content from regular citizens.
A paper by three researchers entitled 'How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument' suggests that an army of government employees is responsible for "cheerleading for China". It has long been believed that China's Fifty Cent Party (thought to comprise people paid to push government propaganda online) has been manipulating message boards and social media. Analysis of 43,000 posts suggested that an incredible 99.3 per cent of them originated from government employees.
Governments around the world use good news to bury bad (or bad news to bury even worse news), and things are no different in China. No different aside from the fact that the pro-government news in China is heavily spun and manipulated. As reported by the Guardian, the report suggests that pro-government posts peak at times that might be considered "politically sensitive".
Rather than spending time trying to silence those who criticise the government - although this almost certainly happens too - paid trolls are tasked with the job of flooding the internet with positivity in the hope of drowning out the negative comments.
The report's authors estimate that 488 million posts every year are the work of a coordinated government operation.