Orwell Meets McKinsey & Co. in China’s Internet Control

March 11, 2014 Updated: March 11, 2014

China already has a reported two million online opinion monitors, but it seems that was not enough. Certificates are now being dispensed for those who take a training course, which instructs them in precisely what information to censor. Inductees become “online public opinion management specialists.” The development is an attempt by Beijing to further professionalize and entrench its management of opinions on the Internet. 

The first training sessions for these specialists will be held in Beijing this month—they’ll be followed up with tests to ensure that the knowledge was retained, and then certificates will be granted.

Control of public opinion has always been a hallmark of communist rule in China. The rapid growth of the Internet and social media, however, caught the Communist Party off guard. It has now taken a variety of moves to reassert state control over social media channels. 

The Communist Party takes seriously the threat of social unrest in China, and attempts to manage, manipulate, and control public opinion on the Internet to head off protests before they have a chance to emerge, according to the Party’s own literature on the topic. 

The first six-day training session for the new certificates will be held from March 27 to April 1, and will be hosted by the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece news agency Xinhua, in cooperation with the National Public Opinion Standardized Test Center (NPST), according to Xinhua.  

The initiative is “a major task for all levels of governments and leaders,” said Xinhua. 

Hardly anyone in the regime is being left out. Training in online public opinion targets cadres in all levels of government: the propaganda department, the public security system, the judiciary, schools and universities, scientific research centers, and the public relations units in large and medium-sized enterprises, according to Xinhua. 

Participants need to take a three-hour test, after which—if they pass—they will be granted certificates by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. 

There are five ranks: assistant analyst, analyst, senior analyst, manager and senior manager. Participants need to pay up 6,800 yuan ($1,108) for the certificate.

The National Public Opinion Standardized Test Center, or NPST, defines how the opinion control is supposed to work. 

The new Internet commissars will be trained to prevent the spread of “rumors” on Weibo, or microblogging platforms, by supervising posts and deleting those that are deemed harmful. They use advanced filtering technology to identify problematic posts, and will need to “rapidly filter out false, harmful, incorrect, or even reactionary information.” 

Those who spread “rumors” may be “severely punished,” the reports say.

Such a case took place on March 9, according to “64 Tianwang,” a well-known human rights website in China. It said that three activists that acted as reporters for the website were placed under criminal detention for “disturbing social order” after they documented protests by petitioners in Beijing last week. The protests took place during the Two Meetings, important political conclaves currently being held.  

Wang Jing, one of those arrested, documented how one female protester attempted to set herself on fire at Tiananmen Square on March 5. 

Ever fond of their certificates, the Beijing Public Security Bureau even awarded them to the two policemen who “successfully dealt with the unexpected incident” of self-immolation, state-run China News says.  

“Revealing the truth in mainland China is forbidden by the Chinese Communist authorities,” said Huang Qi, a rights activist and founder of 64 Tianwang website, in an interview with the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television.  

Huang continued: “Hundreds of people have been suppressed and arrested by the Chinese Communist Party for revealing the truth in recent years. If the authorities keep cracking down on press freedom, corruption will grow more rampant, and the people will stand up to oppose them.”