Reverse Engineering Chinese Government Information Controls

Wed, Oct 11, 2017, 2:00 pm
A71 Louis Simpson International Building
Free and Open to the Public

Based on a forthcoming paper in American Political Science Review, King et al write on the phenomena of social media in China. The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into social media as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many claim that these so-called "50c party" posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to regularly distract the public and change the subject. We discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship program, and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of "common knowledge" and information control in authoritarian regimes.

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