A People’s Liberation Army unit in east China wants Chinese college students to sign up as propagandists.
In a document dated April 6, the Anhui Province Army Reserves ordered Chaohu University to create an “internet protection and internal media opinion warfare unit” that would consist of 20 students. Handwritten scribbles on the document indicate that an unidentified school official had approved the military order, and that the name, gender, and student identity number of those assigned to the team would be collected.
The document was posted to Twitter by Lhasawa Tenzin Neema, who appears to be an activist for a free Tibet. The news was first reported by China Digital Times. Neema did not immediately respond to enquiries.
One Twitter user saw the funny side of the Anhui Province Army Reserves’ attempt to recruit college students: “The Party’s military has decided to abandon guns for pens.”
But the Chinese regime’s efforts at getting Chinese citizens to broadcast the Party line is no laughing matter. Every year, the regime allocates billions of dollars to bolster its state surveillance system in the name of “maintaining social stability.” Some of this funding goes towards paying a network of online commentators whose job is surf the internet and sway public opinion in favor of the regime.
Collectively, these paid commentators are known as the “50 cent army,” as they are paid the titular amount for each post that they leave on social media and bulletin boards on the Chinese Internet, and sometimes on overseas websites. About 4 million of these hired internet trolls are college and and university students, and they are overseen by the Communist Youth League.
In Anhui Province, the Communist Youth League had set a target of having 15,000 students working as propagandists in March 2014, and the quota jumped to 150,000 by February 2015, according to China Digital Times.
Chinese college students are not the only ones serving as the online eyes and ears of the Chinese regime. In Beijing, about 3,000 people from all walks of life supposedly volunteered to help the local security bureau police the internet.