Several prominent netizens selected by the Yunnan Provincial Publicity Department to the committee investigating Li Qiaoming’s death in detention – what has become known online as the ‘eluding the cat’ incident – have become the targets of suspicion and human flesh searches on the Tianya BBS forums. Some forum members are questioning the netizen committee members’ independence and trustworthiness. Others go so far as to call them members of the ‘fifty-cent gang’. From the Southern Metropolis Daily, translated by ESWN:
The human flesh search has come up with the real identities of all the netizen representatives on the investigation team. They all have media working experiences and backgrounds, and therefore they are regarded as people inside the system. Some netizens have labeled them “fifty-cent gang members.” In the virtual world of the Internet, “fifty-cent gang member” is a derogatory term for full-time or part-time commentators who speak out and lead Internet opinion while being employed and directed by the government.
These accusations have caused doubts about the selection processes by the Yunnan province party publicity department of the investigative team members. At the time, the Yunnan province party publicity department explained that the selection was done in two stages. In the first stage, netizens without high name recognition on the Internet were eliminated. In the second stage, the team members were randomly selected from the remaining names.
[Netizen investigative leader] Tail End of the Wind [real name Zhao Li] rejected these accusations. He told the reporter that he had left his old job [at Cailong Net, a portal for the local party newspaper Kunming Daily] many years ago. He is presently an Internet editor for Yunnan TV Net. Since he has not signed a labor contract yet, he does not even have a social security account number. So he could not possibly be a member of the “system.” He made a wager that if anyone can find out his social security account number, then that person can take all the money away. He said that in frustration.