Hong Kong: Battle against 50 Cents at Wikipedia

Editor note: Below is a translation of the article: Battle at Wikipedia – Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation, originally published [zh] in inmediahk.net in Chinese. The article is about how pro-government online commentators, often known as the “50 Cent Party,” use Wikipedia entries to defame pro-democracy community leaders. The article is written within the context of the Anti-national education campaign; the writer, Ah Oi, extended the battle against brainwashing from the classroom to Wikipedia and interviewed two senior wikipedians from Hong Kong and Macau to comment upon the issue. The article is translated by Xiao Ye, a contributing reporter at inmediahk.net.

Battle at Wikipedia – Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation

A mandatory national education curriculum and the guidelines from the Department of Education was eventually put aside due to universal opposition from Hong Kong citizens. However, people in Hong Kong are still worried about whether content [from 50-cent Party writers] will filter into other subjects such as General Studies. The battle over different interpretations of history, political terms and specific persons has been taking place in different media. For example, some pro-Beijing newspapers always make up articles to defame local pro-democracy politicians and social movement activists. Meanwhile, controversies often appear in the editing of Chinese Wikipedia articles. The June Fourth Incident [zh] was considered the most controversial entry in the past. Recently a new entry, the “Three-way Society,” has been invented to defame local pro-democracy community leaders, such as the founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee, the Chinese Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Joseph Zen, the former Hong Kong government official Anson Chan, and the founder of Next Media Group, Jimmy Lai.

Wiki entry as a tool for defamation?

Wikipedia is a platform based on factual knowledge which emphasizes objectivity and neutrality. Many students like to quote its entries as references when doing their projects, so it is quite influential among adolescents. However, because its entries are open for everyone to edit, it can be easily invaded by some specialized writers, including the “online navy” and the “50 Cent party,” names which refer to Internet commentators hired by the Chinese government.

The entry [into Wikipedia of a topic called] “Three-way Society” is apparently used for attacking certain political and religious persons in Hong Kong. This [Wikipedia topic] is introduced because it is supposedly “internet slang,” but generally only widely used online slang gains a Wiki entry, such as “Cao Nima” or Grass Mud Horse and “He Xie” or River Crab. In the case of “Three-way Society,” other than in the Chinese Wikipedia, the term cannot be found online, in Google, Yahoo or Baidu.

Macbox, the writer of the entry, defines “Three-Way Society” as a term that “generally refers to organized Chinese treason groups or societies being subsidized and working for non-Chinese organizations which aims at inciting subversion of the state or local governments. They are mainly based in Hong Kong where freedom of speech is allowed. They also promote the Hong Kong independence movement and separatism.” Judgments from pro-Beijing media like Wenhui Newspaper and ATV are also quoted in the entry at great lengths, which regards the Anti-National Education Movement and the development conflicts in the northeast part of New Territories as conspiracies launched by the “Three-Way Society,” with the aim of “de-chinazation” and embarrassing the Hong Kong SAR government.

Although currently the entry is under dispute, lots of netizens still feel anxious. If a large number of 50 Cent Party articles enter Wikipedia, will the knowledge-based platform be ruined? To answer this question, we interviewed two senior Wikipedians Yuyu and Albert from the local Wikipedia Community.

The monitoring mechanism of “50 Cents”

Q: The “Three-Way Society” entry recently added to the Chinese Wikipedia makes people worry that Wikipedia has been appropriated as Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Could you please explain why the entry would appear in the Chinese Wikipedia and what kind of mechanism the Wikipedian community has to deal with this issue?

Yuyu: Actually, Wikipedia and Wikimedia sister projects are not very different from forums like the Hong Kong Golden. In some situations Wiki is even looser in management. It is not surprising that all kinds of entries could appear in Wiki because almost anyone can register an account and do the editing. Basically, Wiki hopes that readers and editors can take the initiative to modify entries and deal with problems; of course the active Wikipedians should take the main responsibility. The number of Wikipedians in English Wikipedia is relatively large so that they tackle the problems efficiently, however, the Chinese Wikipedia usually handle issues much more slowly.

Q: Some netizens think Internet writers hired by the Chinese Communist Party are able to change the entries constantly; in contrast, ordinary Internet users could only participate in editing in their spare time, so it is hard to form a counterbalance of power. How will you respond to such worries?

Yuyu: The situation has been tough. Without proper measures, ordinary netizens may be outnumbered by occupational writers. So far we have not found large number of “online navy” writers in Wikipedia; usually those suspect writers tend to break more rules, such as using fake accounts to vote or being impartial. We hope that readers can help by correcting the entries by themselves, after all, the number of active Wikipedians is limited, and the readers should at least report the issues to them.

Albert: So far we have not seen too many “online navy” writers in Chinese Wikipedia, because the community in mainland China is still small. The “online navy” is more active in Baidu Encyclopedia because the rules there are not so strict, which allows plagiarism and cut-and-paste posting. However, Wikipedia does not accept these [kinds of edits], so it adds to the difficulties for them to post.

Q: Are there other controversies about entries which are similar to the “Three-way Society” case? Can you give some examples and how these controversies were eventually solved?

Yuyu: Actually there are no “controversies,” but there are always entries that aim to express personal political views. These entries automatically violate Wikipedia policies thus are largely modified or disputed.

Albert: Entries related to history or politics are the most controversial, such as the entry of the “June Forth incident” which has been argued over for many years. (Editor note: The entry has been modified more than 500 times since 2008).

Counterbalance through participation

Q: We have witnessed the increase of Hong Kong-Mainland conflicts in recent years, and has it been reflected in the Wikipedian community? Are there any examples? How do you deal with such conflicts?

Yuyu: Hong Kong-mainland conflicts in Wiki are always serious. For example, the calls for the mainland China Wikipedia editor “Shizhao” to step down reflect the conflict between local netizens in Hong Kong and core Wikipedia managers from Mainland China. In fact, many Hong Kong wikipedians don't want to disclose the internal conflicts to the public, but we really hope more people can participate in Wikipedia in order to counterbalance the situation.

2013 Wikimania (Hong Kong)

There are many rules and regulations for editing Wikipedia and such rules ensure that the entries are factual and impartial. As Yuyu said, the best way to counterbalance the “online navy” and the “Greater China mentality” is netizens’ spontaneous participation. The annual Wikimania 2013 conference will be hold in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and it will call for submission of group topic in December this year. For those who are interested in it could start writing Wikipedia entries and prepare to get involved in the face-to-face discussion next year.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.