China's new army of nationalist trolls is an all-volunteer force

The early days of the Chinese national internet strategy were dominated by the 50-Cent Army, so-called because they were reputed to be paid 0.5 RMB for ever patriotic message they posted to social media; but as the volume of quackspeak astroturfing rose, the army's composition changed to patriotic government employees putting in extra time off the clock to support their country.

Today, the 50-Cent Army has been replaced by the "bring-your-own-rations wumao" (50-cents), or the "little pinks" (named for the color scheme on the message boards where the patriotic troll runs are planned).

The Little Pinks coordinate massive, alt-right-style meme wars with graphics supplied by professional design firms and state agencies; they target perceived threats to China, including public figures like Lady Gaga, who drew their ire for meeting with the Dalai Lama; as well as political leaders in Taiwan and Hong Kong who advocate for independence from China.

One popular meme is a series of cartoons called "That Year, That Rabbit, Those Things" in which a rabbit that represents China is picked on by American eagles and other national symbols. University of Technology Sydney media professor Wanning Sun calls this "indoctritainment."

A study from Merics, a Berlin think tank, found that membership in the little pinks was correlated with dissatisfaction with "their personal economic situation," something that chimes with popular analyses of Brexit and Trump voters, and which bears out Piketty's hypothesis that inequality is intrinsically destabilizing.

The most irreverent little pinks belong to the “Emperor’s Board”, an online forum followed by 29m people, where “crusades” are co-ordinated. China's troll army also organises via private groups on Facebook — which is blocked for the general public. The most popular of these has 40,000 members, who must express their support for the party’s “One China” policy and declare they are Chinese before joining.

Their targets are varied, from Taiwan’s pro-independence president to international airlines accused of mistreating Chinese customers. Lady Gaga’s Instagram account was targeted last year after she met the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing denounces as a separatist.

Attacks, though usually spontaneous, are meticulously organised in reaction to perceived slights against China. The trolls share tips on how to access Facebook, Twitter and other foreign sites blocked by Chinese censors.

China’s Communist party raises army of nationalist trolls [Yuan Yang/FT]

(via Naked Capitalism)

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