China’s ’50 Cent Party’ — the army of online commenters paid by the government to push its talking points online — is no secret. The project is so widely-known now that “fifty cents” has become something of a slur for anyone online who toes the government line. But a recent (and excellent) New York Review of Books article shares a little tidbit that you might not be aware of: some of China’s ’50 Cent Party’ commenters are operating from behind bars.
Apparently, in the years since it was first introduced, the program has expanded beyond government-employed commenters, and now authorities are hiring private subcontractors and even offering prisoners sentence reductions in return for posting pro-government comments. That means that not only do some of these commenters likely not agree with the opinions they’re posting, they may not even really doing it voluntarily.
The rest of the story is interesting too, and if you’re interested in Chinese web censorship it’s certainly worth a read. But I wonder if the revelation that some of the pro-government commenters online are prisoners is likely to make China’s net users any more friendly towards them. After all, it’s easy to understand why somebody would be willing to post propaganda if the alternative is more hard time.
(New York Review of Books, h/t to Mark MacKinnon)