As Chinese authorities are fiercely cracking down on the internet, China’s top social media platform Weibo doing its best to stay in line. On September 27, Weibo announced it would hire 1,000 “supervisors” from among its users to conduct censorship.
Weibo said it will grant each supervisor membership, a special identity label on the platform and an online subsidy equal to 200 yuan (around $30). Furthermore, Weibo said it would reward the supervisors who have the best performance each month with iPhones, other smartphones, notebooks, or other prizes.
According to the announcement, all supervisors, “who work on their leisure time,” should report on no less than 200 pieces of content (including both original posts and comments) that either are pornographic, illegal or harmful. The announcement didn’t clarify what content should be regarded as “harmful,” but it promised that Weibo would train the supervisors beforehand.
Weibo claimed that the public recruitment, under the guidance of the Beijing Office of Cyberspace Affairs, is for “strengthening the netizens self-discipline and cleaning the Weibo environment.”
On September 28, Weibo published more detailed information on supervisors’ work, further elaborating on the qualifications and disqualifications for a supervisor. It required that the supervisors should have their identity confirmed and “some experience of reporting,” and should not take advantage of the position to retaliate or blackmail other users.
This is not the first time online Chinese communities have been seeded with censors or professional commenters. Such internet commenters, in particular, have a colloquial nickname — 50 Cent Party — based on the rumor that those hired by the Chinese government to manipulate public opinion would be paid 50 cents per post.
Weibo’s public recruitment of censors is surprising but not unprecedented. Weibo quietly posted a similar announcement days earlier. The latest announcement has only received positive comments — but that’s what censors are there to ensure, right?
For Weibo, the new measure is a strategic business move. On September 25, Beijing’s internet regulator imposed a maximum, though unspecified, fine on the Weibo (as well as two other Chinese internet giants) for “failing to properly manage its platform.” The authorities said Weibo’s users spread information that “jeopardizes national security, public safety, and social order.”
The public nature of the hiring announcement serves another purpose beyond the recruitment of censors and an attempt to rectify the situation that brought Beijing’s ire upon the company: it serves as a warning to all Weibo users and motivation to self-censor lest their fellow netizens report them.