China: Netizen Representatives or 50 Cents Rule!

The Xinhua News reported yesterday (Feb 23) that a conference had been held last weekend on Feb 16 by the Office of Nationwide anti-Smut campaign (全国整治互联网低俗之风专项行动办公室) and the Beijing Association of Online Media (北京网络媒体协会), in which representatives of netizen gave suggestion on cleaning up the internet.

Rebecca MacKinnon gave some background about the meeting in her recent blog post. This group of pro-government web commentators, who are either paid or volunteer to moderate online opinions, is commonly known as the “fifty cent party” or “river crabs”.

Feed the cats

The Xinhua report titled as “Netizen suggestion: Anti-Smut campaign has to beat the rats and feed the cats” (网民献策:整治低俗之风既要“打鼠”也要“养猫”), referred vulgar content creators as rats and beating the rats being the first step in the anti-smut campaign while the second step would be the feeding of cats, which implies economic motivation for censor work.

The suggestion was made by a netizen, Mr Cui, working in an IT company,


In order to build a governance mechanism, we have to encourage websites to participate. The motivation for the production of vulgar content is interest based. If we can let these websites have economic gain from the anti-smut campaign, rather than social interest, more websites will join our action. Our first step is to “shout and beat down” the rat, the next step is to “feed cat” and we can also encourage the invention of “rat poison”.

Let them feel the “pain” and “be frightened”!

A CCP secretary of party branch in a Beijing secondary school, Mr. Sun, suggested to strengthen the control of webmasters and online editors, as well as to employ more netizens to be voluntary content censors. (Note: It may sound strange to our readers that volunteers are employed.) A staff from a fashion company, Mr. Niu suggested to impose harsher punishment so that the websites and content creators involved would feel the “pain” and “be frightened”. Wang from, a police website, suggested to extend the control to BT, E-donkey and other P2P tools.

From netizen representatives to people's congress representatives

Apart from actively participated in the anti-smut campaign, the so-called netizen representatives are getting more and more active in other political arena. According to an article in China Youth Online, on 17 of February, 4 netizens entered the People's Congress of Luo Yang city (洛陽) in Henan under the title of “netizen representatives”, they have also been nominated as the city's CPPCC committee members.

The writer of the article used “Lao Niu” as an example for showing that these “netizen representatives” fail to represent netizens as they are neither nominated by nor elected by netizens.

“老牛”虽然是“网络发展促进会”的会长,但作为人大代表,他并没有得到网民的授权和选举,他是由“网络发展促进会”作为洛阳网民界人大代表候选人推荐给洛阳市西工区人大,得到西工区人大的同意,在西工区的人民代表大会上,被选举为洛阳市人大代表的; 其次,“老牛”能当选为洛阳市人大代表,他首先是洛阳市西工区的人大代表,但他这个西工区的人大代表也不是由网民联名推荐的代表候选人经选举产生的。

Although Lao Niu is the head of “Internet advancement association”, he has never received the endorsement from other netizens for his position as the People Congress representative. He was suggested as a people representative nominee to the western district of Luo Yang city's People Congress by the “internet advancement association” under the title of netizen representative. The nomination was accepted by the western district people's congress and then Niu was elected as a representative of the city's People's congress in the western district people's congress gathering. The reason why Lao Niu can become a representative of the City's People's Congress is because he is a representative in the western district people's congress, however, his position as representative in the western district people's congress had nothing to do with netizen nomination and election.

Netizen representatives involved in investigation

Another event that involved netizen representative is the investigation of the death of a youth in the police detention center in the eluding the cat incident in Yunnan. Southern Metropolis Daily has studied the background of the representatives (via ESWN's translation):

The human flesh search has come up with the real identities of all the netizen representatives on the investigation team. They all have media working experiences and backgrounds, and therefore they are regarded as people inside the system. Some netizens have labeled them “fifty-cent gang members.” In the virtual world of the Internet, “fifty-cent gang member” is a derogatory term for full-time or part-time commentators who speak out and lead Internet opinion while being employed and directed by the government.

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