China’s Internet Propaganda Machine Revealed

Blogger “Xiaolan” recently leaked a large archive of email correspondence from the Internet Information Office of Zhanggong District, Ganzhou City, Jiangxi from 2013 and 2014. Described as “evidence of the work of the Fifty Cent Party,” the more than 2,700 emails reveal one small part of the massive apparatus used by the Communist Party to “guide public opinion” in the digital age. At Quartz, Nikhil Sonnad examines Zhanggong’s “surprisingly large, yet comically unsophisticated” propaganda department, corresponding with Xiaolan on how he managed to obtain Zhanggong documents, and examining emails tied to an online Q&A with Ganzhou Party Secretary and “propaganda innovator” Shi Wenqing:

Xiaolan—he only goes by that name—communicated with Quartz through encrypted chat messages. He said he was able to hack into Zhanggong’s propaganda department’s email account the easy way: by guessing the password.

“Generally, the passwords for government departments are the name of the department followed by ‘123456’ or something like that,” Xiaolan said. In this case, the mailbox password was “xcb123456,” with “xcb” representing the first letter of the romanization of each character in 宣传部—”propaganda department.”

[…] The internet exchange Quartz examined took place on January 16, 2014, with the online discussion hosted by Ganzhou Net, a local news portal managed by the propaganda department. (The full video of the interview is available online, in Chinese.) In its email announcing the Q&A to wangpingyuan, the department told each of them to post in the forum at least once, suggesting seven “discussion points” to focus on in their comments. Here’s one:

It’s almost Chinese New Year, but it seems like taxis are far more orderly than in past years. Also, taxi drivers are using their meters more reliably and the service is just generally better. Let’s keep it up!

Paid commenters tend to paste these suggestions word-for-word to meet their quotas and move on, and that’s what many of them appear to have done in this case.

[…] “These commenters just write their work report, send it, and are finished,” said Xiao [Qiang], the CDT editor. “Their tasks are totally mechanical.”

Not all paid comments are copy-and-paste jobs, however […] [Source]

Click through for more insight into China’s Internet propaganda machine. Also see CDT’s explanation of the Zhanggong leaks, a translated work report from the archive parroting frequent English-language defender of the CCP Eric X. Li, or Xiaolan’s original blogpost and instructions for downloading the entire archive (via CDT Chinese).