China has more internet monitors than soldiers

An army of censors.
An army of censors.
Image: Reuters/William Hong
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China has two million people working as online monitors, according to a report (link in Chinese) last week by state news publication, Beijing News—a new estimate that reveals the breadth of the country’s massive online censorship and surveillance systems. The monitors, who scour online comments and compile reports for officials or private businesses, outnumber even China’s 1.5 million active military personnel.

There is now an entire industry and profession dedicated to controlling—or attempting to control—China’s fast-moving social media world, where comments quickly go viral among the country’s 500 million internet users. The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party is holding a four-day seminar this month where successful students can be certified as “public opinion analysts,” according to the Beijing Times report. Once certified, they’re eligible for jobs with China’s propaganda department, commercial companies, news websites or public relation firms.

Social media monitoring, a measure whose ostensible goal is social stability, has been turned into a “money-making machine for local governments [and] firms,” said Guobin Yang, a professor of sociology and communication at the University of the Pennsylvania, in comments on Twitter Oct. 7. The People’s Daily charges up to 4,000 renminbi ($650) for four days of training to become an analyst, Yang noted.

And for businesses or officials who need more than just monitoring, “black public relations” firms offers services like wiping negative articles from the internet or blocking certain search terms. These cost at least 10,000 renminbi and and up to 1 million renminbi, respectively, according to a February report (link in Chinese) by Century Weekly.