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chinese-firewallThis piece, about online censorship by the government Venezuela loves to seek technical assistance from, is absolutely chilling in its detail:

…[Chinese] censors expend even more effort on the task of “guiding” expression in pro-government directions. When a story reflects well on the Party, Web editors receive instructions to “place prominently on the home page” or “immediately recirculate.” Authorities also organize and pay for artificial pro-government expression in chat rooms and comment boxes. Provincial and local offices of External Propaganda and Party Propaganda hire staff at salaries of about US $100 per month (less, for part-time work) to post pro-government comments. It is hard to say how many salaried commenters exist nationwide, but estimates run to the high 100,000s. Some of this commenting is outsourced as piece-work. A few years ago, people who agreed to do this work were given the satiric label “fifty-centers” because they were said to be paid fifty Chinese cents per post. By now there are commercial enterprises that contract for comment work. Even prisons do it; prisoners can earn sentence reductions for producing set numbers of pro-government comments.

1 COMMENT

  1. As there is a number of PSUV members that are going to china to be trained… this might be a possible subject for their ‘studies’..

  2. This is true and a shame. Huawei has been helping Chavistas big time with systems to get a glimpse of how networks of opposition people behave and how to detect weird patterns. Cubans have trained in old-style but still useful wire-taping techniques. There are a bunch of Venezuelans studying in Minsk’s War Academy, supposedly to become tank operatives and the like…but I noticed one of the studies they offer there is to become an intelligence specialist.

    On the propaganda factor, though: let’s not forget that the US government also has its tricks, even if they tend to be more directed: it’s usually the “intelligence sources say” so often used by NYT and the Washington Post as well as a myriad of other papers, papers that suddenly have a new set of sources that seem to contradict what another investigation just said. Let’s also remember characters like this guy from Die Welt who claimed there were rockets in Paraguana that threatened Florida (he also claimed to get it from very serious intelligent sources). He is a German with strong connections to Israel. His article was immediately reprinted in conservative Israeli papers and then by people close to Noriega in the USA.

  3. Cuba actually does some if this. A friend returned to Cuba a month ago. His friends–they all studied together in Moscow thirty years ago–said they were told to open facebook accounts at the new government-owned internet cafes, try to get as many “friends” as possible, and then pump out “facts and opinions” supplied by the government, but purporting to be their own opinions. The payoff is that you get your salary or pension in dollar-convertible money rather than the paper pesos that other Cubans use.

    The Cuban police maintain a Twitter Feed, but disguised as “Cubanito en Cuba”. If you tweet something about Cuba or sign on to follow a Cuban dissident, they will use this account to “follow” you.

  4. “Authorities also organize and pay for artificial pro-government expression in chat rooms and comment boxes. Provincial and local offices of External Propaganda and Party Propaganda hire staff at salaries of about US $100 per month” You cant make fun of this, its impossible

    • You could have a shot though. That they call themselves External Propaganda to begin with, implying a mirror-image Internal Propaganda office, employing differently trained specialists, in the Venezuelan equivalent, possibly paid in butter, toilet paper and milk-from-a-cow or viuchers to that effect. And, jumping out of the paper is the ‘artificial’ qualifier, implying that ‘authentic pro-goverment’ has gone the way of the dodo long since. No, overal, I’d’ve opined there is satirical mileage to b teased out if that para.

  5. That NYRB article is interesting. I was also struck by the paragraph immediately following the one quoted in the post, which demonstrates that such efforts can be counter-productive:

    The “fifty-cent” initiative has met with some problems, however. Posts for pay have become so repetitive and mechanical that Web users spot them easily. Such posts also run the risk of undermining opinion that might be genuinely pro-government, because they make any pro-government comment subject to the suspicion that it was done for money.

    While I have no reason to doubt the claim that the recruiters of “fifty-centers” are also responsible for censorship, there is a considerable difference between paying people to participate in debates and censoring the debates. The strategy of comment-bombing is hardly limited to Chinese censors. It’s used by a huge variety of commercial spammers, the Israeli armed forces, any number of western political organizations, and, in a related form (mailbox bombing) by Amnesty International and azaaz.org, both organizations which I have a lot of respect for. (To be fair, there is a difference between comment-bombing a blog and mail-bombing an elected representative.) In short, encouraging (or even paying) your supporters to present your message in public has a history that goes back centuries. (Long before the internet, public debates were disrupted by organized cabals of hecklers, a tactic rather more difficult to ignore than trolling.)

  6. Oh come on people, this has been happening in Venezuela for years. The Soviets were the masters of disinformation and the Cubans perfected the craft.

    Do you really believe the PSFs that troll your blogs are simply spontaneous? Did you forget about the VIO office whose job was to direct people against any article negative to Chávez?
    Do you ever read Noticiero Digital? The tarifados there are well identified an can be differentiated from the real government supporters.
    Even in facebook you find some, although much less, maybe because in facebook is harder to create false identities.

    What do you think the term Gerrilla Comunicacional means?

  7. The US does the same, and so do all governments with enough money.

    The question we must ask ourselves is: what can we; not the govt, not the NGOs, not the corporations, parties or sindicates; what can we do to compete against that kind of pressure (more than the prosecution of dissent, the funding of propaganda)?

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