Most readers of this blog have probably heard of the "fifty cent party" - people in China who are either paid or who volunteer to post pro-government opinions and information. If you are not familiar with the "fifty cent party" phenom, last year David Bandurski wrote an excellent article, China's Guerilla War for the Web, in which he documented the phenomenon. He estimated at the time that there were as many as 280,000 members of web commentary teams nationwide. This BBC story gives an example of how rapid-reaction web commentators managed to spin one chatroom conversation in a pro-police direction after a netizen posted an unfavorable comment about his experiences with the police.
In case there was any doubt about the existence of such people, we now have pictures, thanks to a link posted yesterday by @shizhao on Twitter. The blog 河蟹上岸 ("river crab goes ashore" - whose author tracks and comments on censorship issues) linked to this year-old report on the website of the Beijing Association of Online Media. It describes a meeting held on January 19, 2008 by BAOM and the Beijing Internet Illegal Information Reporting Hotline. Attendees included "40 representatives of Internet supervision volunteers." (Click to enlarge picture at left.)
According to the article, BAOM has been working hard since May 2006 to promote a more "civilized" Internet. By December 2007 they had developed a team of 235 people in the Beijing Internet Supervision Volunteer Corps. 23958 pieces of inappropriate content were reported and 20706 items were deleted. Four model Internet supervision volunteers read speeches (see left). They talked about how proud they were to be contributing to a more civilized and harmonious Internet. One of them, the parent of a small child, described how important it is that young people need to be encountering "healthy websites."