Communist Party and Government Officials Manipulate "Public Opinion" on the Internet

June 27, 2005

The publication Southern Weekend has reported that government agencies in several places in China have begun to employ "online commentators," apparently in an effort to manipulate public opinion on Internet forums and bulletin boards. According to a May 19 article entitled "Suqian: Practicing Guidance of Internet Public Opinion," Suqian, a city in Jiangsu province, has hired 26 "politically reliable" Communist Party propaganda officials and government spokespersons to "actively develop the guidance of public opinion at home, and work hard to establish Suqian's image abroad."

The publication Southern Weekend has reported that government agencies in several places in China have begun to employ "online commentators," apparently in an effort to manipulate public opinion on Internet forums and bulletin boards. According to a May 19 article entitled "Suqian: Practicing Guidance of Internet Public Opinion," Suqian, a city in Jiangsu province, has hired 26 "politically reliable" Communist Party propaganda officials and government spokespersons to "actively develop the guidance of public opinion at home, and work hard to establish Suqian's image abroad." Authorities have also established an "Online Commentary Supervision Office" and an "Internet News Management Office" pursuant to the recently promulgated "Opinion on Suqian Municipal Online Commentary Work Implementation," which is designed to "...implement day-to-day coordination of the ranks of online commentators..."

Southern Weekend also reports that these online commentators "guide public opinion in their capacity as ordinary Internet users," and quoted one such commentator as saying "More and more localities will begin to hire online commentators, and there are many who have already commenced operations, it is just that the outside world doesn't know."

The state-controlled press in China has long portrayed the Internet as an "ideological battlefield," and advocated that the government deploy personnel to "channel" and "guide" Internet public opinion in a manner beneficial to the Party and the government. In 2003, the Liberation Army Daily noted that, despite government efforts to block outside information, some was still getting through, and it was therefore necessary to create "ideological firewalls." More recently, editorials and opinion pieces making similar calls have appeared in Beijing's People's Daily and Guangming Daily, Shanghai's Liberation Daily and News Journalist magazine, and the People's Liberation Army's Military Journalist magazine. This propaganda campaign concludes that:

  • Its advantages notwithstanding, the Internet represents a threat to the Party's and government's monopoly on news publishing and propaganda dissemination.
  • The government cannot block out all politically-sensitive information that the Party and the government find objectionable, no matter how desirable it would be to do so.
  • When the government cannot block information that might affect public opinion in undesirable ways, public opinion must be channeled toward forums in which the government and Party can manipulate and control it.
  • To achieve this end, the government and Party should train and deploy personnel to post opinions and information that will "guide" public opinion on the Internet in the desired direction.

See below to view selected translations from these sources.

Suqian: Practicing Guidance of Internet Public Opinion, Southern Weekend (May 19, 2005)

The general principles for online commentators can be summed up 16 words from the Opinion on Online Commentary Work Implementation: "Actively expand, strengthen supervision, pursue profit and avoid harm, act on our behalf."

Zhang Fenglin, Deputy Director of the Suqian municipal Propaganda Department spoke out: "faced with the information age, the Internet age, an important task and urgent duty has been set before us-how to take the initiative on getting a hold on Internet public opinion, and how to capture the high ground of Internet public opinion.

According to the "Opinion on Online Commentary Work Implementation," Suqian's municipal online commentator cadre will "tightly button up the central work and important policies of the municipal government . . . and will organize the development of online propaganda, direct the development on online commentary, and purposefully develop online guidance."

Jiangsu province convened a symposium on Internet supervision work, and the symposium emphasized: "carry out the strengthening of our province's Internet supervision work with a high sense of political responsibility, show your true colors in disposing of harmful information, and strengthen the occupation of the high ground of online public opinion and your ability to guide Internet public opinion." . . . [M]aterials distributed during the meeting, called on every city and area to strengthen their guidance of Internet public opinion, and the establishment of a cadre of online commentators was brought up at the meeting.

Based on search results, at the beginning of this year Jiangxi province's Dajiang Net began hiring a cadre of online commentators, and in the beginning of April its organization was complete. "A group of Internet users of high political quality, a relatively deep training in writing, and simultaneously having a certain news sensitivity, who will undertake the important duty to distribute commentary on the news to guide the orientation of public opinion."

Regarding "Internet commentators," one scholar of broadcasting opined that, because of China's current situation, Internet public opinion cannot be equated with people's will and situation, and it is necessary to carry out some regulation and control.

Grasp the Techniques of Mastery and Guidance of Public Opinion: Raise the Quality of Responding to and Understanding Public Opinion Crises, News Journalist (2005-02-01 )

[W]hat we often refer to as "public opinion guidance" means being able to carry out effective control and guidance of the content disseminated by, and the direction of the flow of, public opinion. Every class, ruling party, and social group will make all types of public opinion control and guidance conform with the direction they require pursuant to their interests and volition.

Particularly in a situation where modern broadcast technology is developing and changing daily, and the use of Internet and other high level new broadcast technologies and methods is becoming more widespread, it is becoming more and more difficult to effectively use the method of "blocking criticism." Practice teaches that the truly effective method is to vigorously remove obstructions, and actively guide . . . .

Build Online Public Opinion Emphasis: When There is Government Online, There is Strength Online, People's Daily Editorial (2004-12-08 )

Just as we have taken the initiative to emphasize that the work of newspapers, television, and radio must have a firm grasp on propaganda ideology work, we must also build up the emphasis on Internet public opinion propaganda in order to provide beneficial propaganda guarantees and public opinion support for overall reform, development, and stability.

In recent years the Internet has been a battlefield for the Communist Party's propaganda ideology work, and its utility has become increasingly clear.

Relevant agencies should strengthen management of the Internet and form an inter-connected, extremely efficient management of the Internet.

Sensitive Topics Fill Cyberspace: How to Regulate and Control Emotional Public Opinion on the Internet, Military Journalist (2004-10)

Because the masses are increasingly unsatisfied with their reality, and lack an appropriate outlet for relief, a large amount of emotional public opinion accumulates in society's dissemination spaces, and the technological characteristics of openness and virtual reality-nesss of the Internet provide emotional public opinion with an advantageous dissemination space, and therefore it seems that a large amount of emotional public opinion is disseminated on the Internet. This kind expression that includes opinions that are emotional is by its very nature not very correct, and added to the fact that its scope of influence is large and its speed of dissemination is fast, it represents a definite threat to social stability.

The voice of the virtual world and the public opinion on the Internet can only bear fruit when they reach the world of reality if they have undergone rational filtering.

Although in theory, people have the freedom to chose what information they receive via the Internet, in fact, when faced with this kind of vast "sea of information," choice becomes the choice of too many choices, and freedom becomes the non-freedom of too much freedom, Internet information then attains an empty state of surplus and overflow. Therefore, the utility of Internet inspectors in choosing information and guiding public opinion is very great.

Internet inspectors should be information providers, information guiders, and information regulators and supervisors, put up relevant subject or topics, attract those individual end-users to participate in the public discussion arena, utilize the free and animated Internet exchanges, timely news reports, and furthermore add exhaustive factual background materials, carry out conforming the disparate discussion arenas, in the process of exchanges guide the masses'' opinion, facilitate the formation of correct public opinion, and foster the audience's loyalty and good opinion of the Web site.

Restrain the Negative Influence of "Emotional Public Opinion on the Internet", Guangming Daily Web site (2005-04-19)

If we do not quickly carry out the clearing up of factual distortions and carry out the channeling of "emotional public opinion on the Internet," the it will incite irrational emotions of more of the masses who are unaware of the truth, and in the end it will lead to an increase in socially discordant factors.

It is necessary to increase the establishment of online propaganda cadres in order to focus emphasis on beneficial online public opinion.

Liberate Forums: Correctly Responding to "Emotional Public Opinion on the Internet, Liberation Daily (2005-05-11 )

Therefore, it is very necessary to further build up the online public opinion cadres, exert strong efforts to train the core strength of a group of Internet commentary, work hard to set up the authoritative reliability of Internet public opinion, and thereby strengthen mainstream expression, and reduce and even isolate non-mainstream expression. The core strength of this group of should have a strong sense of social responsibility, and at the same time should master the art of guiding, regulating, and controlling, and use the power and techniques of persuasion through expressing opinions to attain dominance over mainstream perspectives, and guide Internet opinion in the correct direction. In this way we will be able guide Internet users' thinking by using materials and perspectives that seek truth through the facts, and using expression that has insight, has a standpoint, a unique point of view and is rich in personality.

Build a Firm Ideological "Firewall",Liberation Army Daily (2003-09-27 )

International and overseas spy organizations use the Internet as an important means to get intelligence; they frequently set online "traps" to obtain intelligence. Although we have set up "fire walls" and other measures to ward off such harmful information, there is some information we cannot "ward off" or "fend off."

The Internet has become a channel for dissemination of information and ideological culture, relied upon as a vehicle and battlefield, and like other ideology cultural battlefields, if correct, advanced and high-spirited things do not occupy it, then wrong, backward, and decadent things will occupy it. Therefore, a firm ideological "firewall" must strengthen "occupying" conciousness, and work hard to use advanced ideological culture to capture this ideological culture territory of this new battlefield of the Internet. First we must strengthen propaganda online, and make full use of this modern channel for dissemination to propagandize scientific theory, disseminate advanced culture, initiate scientific spirit, and carry forward a socially healthy atmosphere. Second, establish local area network work units, which should update and constantly improve the Internet's content in a timely manner, and make the local area networks lively, vigorous, high-spirited and absorbing. Once these tasks are accomplished, we may then use scientific and cultural information to resist dispirited and decadent information, and furthermore enable officers and troops to better maintain political firmness and ideological and moral purity under the influence of advanced ideology culture.