Skip to main content

China 'employs 2 million to police internet'

By Katie Hunt and CY Xu, CNN
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 0756 GMT (1556 HKT)
China has an army of internet monitors
China has an army of internet monitors
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China has around two million people policing public opinion online
  • They monitor the millions of messages being posted on popular social media
  • Government wants to prevent social unrest
  • China has more internet monitors than active army personnel

(CNN) -- China has around two million people policing public opinion online, according to a state media report that sheds light on the country's secretive internet surveillance operations.

Dubbed "public opinion analysts," they work for the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda department, major Chinese news websites and commercial corporations, according to The Beijing News.

Using keyword searches, their job is to sift the millions of messages being posted on popular social media and microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo, regarded as China's equivalent to Twitter. They then compile reports for decision makers, the report said.

The number of people monitoring internet activity to prevent criticism of the government and social unrest has been a subject of discussion for years, said David Bandurski, editor of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.

China tweaks Internet censorship
China's 'Internet crocodile' steps down
China's 'rumor hunters'

"Two million sounds like a big number," he said. "But I think it's clear that the government will do what it takes to monitor any potential collective action on social media."

The ranks of online censors outnumber China's active armed forces, which total 1.5 million, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

READ: Online popularity can be perilous in China

Bandurski said that the resources China has invested in internet surveillance have increased rapidly since Sina Weibo's emergence in 2010.

It now has 500 million account holders although a recent crackdown on internet rumors has deterred some users.

Posts run a range of topics from celebrity gossip to politically sensitive issues like official corruption.

"China's biggest engineering project is not the Three Gorges dam but public opinion and Weibo has completely changed the game," Bandurski said.

The Beijing News described the work of Tang Xiaotao, who has been employed as a monitor for less than six months by a company that works on government projects.

Using a software application that cost $3 million yuan ($490,000), Tang searches for key words specified by his company's clients, monitors negative opinions and then compiles a report.

READ: Chinese web giants join forces in crackdown on 'online rumors'

The software also tracks how widely a topic is being discussed by counting the number of comments and shares. When the score reaches 40 out of 100, the system will send an alert.

A final decision on what action to take is decided by the clients, which include government officials, Tang told the newspaper.

Online analysts like Tang will be offered specialist training later this month, the newspaper said. The course, run by the People's Daily online operations, covers judging and analyzing online posts and dealing with crisis situations.

Those who pass will get a certificate, formally recognizing them as "public opinion analysts."

Katie Hunt wrote and reported from Hong Kong, CY Xu reported from Beijing

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 0518 GMT (1318 HKT)
A top retired general has confessed to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
A group in China escapes from a stuck elevator thanks to one man and his trusty hammer. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Facebook's founder says he taught himself Mandarin and tested his skills with students in China.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0133 GMT (0933 HKT)
China launched an experimental spacecraft that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Full marks for ingenuity: This was a truly high-tech scam.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0526 GMT (1326 HKT)
The rationale behind Confucius Institutes -- an international chain of academic centers run by an arm of the Chinese government -- is understandable.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT)
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 0511 GMT (1311 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
ADVERTISEMENT