Chinese spin-doctors have been instructed to step-up their online activities and tap into the social-media revolution to spread “positive energy” across the internet.
Lu Wei, Beijing’s propaganda chief, gave the order at a meeting on Thursday, according to a report in the Beijing News.
Beijing’s “2.06 million” propaganda workers “should make more efforts in opinion guiding on hot topics”, Mr Lu said in an apparent reference to 60,000 directly employed propaganda officials and 2 million informal collaborators, likely including students and Party members.
By expanding its presence on social media sites, the Communist Party would be able to “handle hot topics effectively, strengthen the online mainstream public opinion and improve the ‘ecology’ of online public opinion.”
Referring to Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, Mr Lu said propaganda officials should: “Browse on Weibo, set up Weibo accounts, send Weibo [messages and] study Weibo.” Mr Lu’s comments come weeks after Beijing appeared to tighten its control over the internet by announcing new regulations that, if enforced, would require users to register their real names before using the service.
According to the Beijing News, Mr Lu listed a series of “hot topics” Party chiefs hoped could be positively spun by Beijing’s army of propagandists.
The topics included “economic trends, price controls, transformation and development, employment, housing, social security [and] income distribution.” Officials were also ordered to “purify” the internet by continuing their “crackdown on harmful and vulgar information.”
The political importance of China’s addiction to the internet is not lost on its incoming leaders and there has been recent speculation that incoming president Xi Jinping has taken his first steps into the world of Weibo, which has an estimated 200 million registered users.
Since late last year, a Weibo account called ‘Fans Group to Learn from Xi’ has been raising eyebrows amid claims is in fact controlled by Mr Xi’s staff.
On Thursday, the account – which has around 63,000 followers and enjoys suspiciously close access to Mr Xi – published a photograph of the Communist Party boss smiling at a grimacing Barack Obama. “It looks like Obama is depressed,” read the caption.
The Beijing News report left Chinese micro-bloggers bemused and angry.
Many reacted in disbelief to the suggestion that there were 2 million propaganda officials lurking in Beijing.
“This is terrifying,” wrote one micro-blogger, under the name Zhao Yajun. “One out of 10 of Beijing’s population is a propaganda worker.” “No wonder we have to pay such high taxes!” complained another.
Anthony Tao, a Beijing-based blogger, wrote: “Holy smoke. Two million paid sycophants.”
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