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October 7, 2013

China employs two million ‘microblog monitors’

Employees on state payroll 'routinely search and delete blog posts'.

By Ben Sullivan

State media in China has said that more than two million people are employed by the government to monitor activity on microblogging websites.

The reports provide a rare glimpse into how the Chinese state tries to control the Internet.

The Beijing News says the monitors, described as Internet opinion analysts, are on state and commercial payrolls.

China’s hundreds of millions of web users increasingly use microblogs to criticise the state or vent anger.

The report by the Beijing News said that these monitors were not required to delete postings.

It is commonly said that China’s Internet is one of the most censored and controlled in the world. Websites that are deemed to be subversive to the state are blocked, and political postings are routinely deleted. The name of the former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was censored when rumours were circulating on the Internet that his family had amassed a fortune while he was in power.

But with the rapid growth of Internet users, the ruling Communist Party has found itself fighting an uphill battle.

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The Beijing News, while reporting the story of microblog monitors, has admitted that it is impossible for the government to delete all "undesirable" postings.

The more postings deleted, the more they appear, it says.

They are "strictly to gather and analyse public opinions on microblog sites and compile reports for decision-makers," it said. It also added details about how some of these monitors work.

Tang Xiaotao has been working as a monitor for less than six months, the report says, without revealing where he works.

"He sits in front of a PC every day, and opening up an application, he types in key words which are specified by clients.
"He then monitors negative opinions related to the clients, and gathers (them) and compile reports and send them to the clients," it says.

It is believed that the two million internet monitors are part of a huge army which the government relies on to control the internet.

The government is also to organise training classes for them for the first time from 14 to 18 October, the paper says.

The training will have eight modules, and teach participants how to analyse and judge online postings and deal with crisis situations, it says.

The most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, launched in 2010, now has more than 500 million registered users with 100 million messages posted daily.

China has recently unblocked social networking sites Facebook and Twitter in its Shanghai Trade Zone, but elsewhere in the country people have to use China’s own version of the websites, which are censored.

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