Internet Water Army

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On the Internet in the People's Republic of China, an Internet Water Army or Wangluo shuijun (simplified Chinese: 网络水军; traditional Chinese: 網絡水軍; pinyin: Wǎngluò shuǐjūn; Wade–Giles: Wang-luo shui-chün) is a group of Internet ghostwriters paid to post online comments with particular content. In this "astroturfing" (meaning "artificial grass-roots") technique for public relations and media manipulation, online Chinese companies employ people to make postings on social media in order to change public opinion. The private Wangluo shuijun operations parallel the official 50 Cent Party propagandist Internet commentators hired by the government of the People's Republic of China or the Communist Party of China.

Names[edit]

The Chinese name combines the modern word wangluo 网络 (lit. "internet") meaning "network; Internet; the Net" with the archaic term shuijun 水军 (lit. "water army") "navy; marine units" – the more common Chinese word is haijun 海军 ("ocean army") "navy".[1] This shuijun "water army" metaphor refers to "the large number of people who are well organized to flood the Internet with purposeful comments and articles."[2] The Chinese etymology of shuijun meaning "navy" instead of "water army" is translated in the Shuijunshiwan 水军十万 (lit. "navy 100,000") company slogan: "Thousands of navy, for your assignment."[3]

Besides the literal "Internet Water Army" or "Internet Navy," other English translations include "Online Water Army,"[4] and "Army of Water",[5] plus explanations of "Internet ghostwriters",[6] and "hidden paid posters".[7] Adam Clark Estes describes the name, "If the term "Internet troll" conjures up unintimidating images of angry, acne-faced computer geeks, the phrase "Internet water army" just sounds horrifying, like a force of besuited villains from a graphic novel. In reality, it's not that scary, but the continually booming business for paid spammers and mission-driven trolls is definitely unsettling."[8]

Xinhua News Agency reported on a new Water Army title, "zombies" (Chinese jiangshi 僵尸) who are paid followers of Sina Weibo microblogs, and "can be bought and sold online for as little as 4 yuan (63 cents) a thousand."[9]

Several names of Wangluo shuijun companies, such as Shuijunwang.com and 51shuijun.net, use the homophone shuijun 水君 "water gentleman" instead of shuijun "water army; navy", which is subject to Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China.

Background[edit]

Chinese "Internet navy" Wangluo shuijun were preceded by government and private organizations that paid professional Internet commentators.

Governmental programs of social media manipulation are found worldwide. China's 50 Cent Party (named from the 0.5 yuan payment per posting) trains and employs tens of thousands of online commentators to promote the PRC party line and control public opinion on microblogs, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms.

The social media marketing business model did not originate in China, and is a worldwide phenomenon exemplified by companies such as FansandInvites in the US, SocioNiks in the United Kingdom, and uSocial in Australia. For instance, uSocial sells their customers Digg votes, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends;[10] Hamilton Nolan, a blog editor at Gawker, revealed a marketing agency that offered bribes – first $130, then $175 – for linking their clients' websites.[11] Adario Strange reported on Internet advertising companies trying to game Digg's ranking system through paying registered users for votes.[12] For instance, the Subvert And Profit website claims "25,000 users who earn money by viewing, voting, fanning, rating, or posting assigned task", with payments ranging from $0.40 (e.g., Facebook) to $1.00 (e.g., Digg).[13]

Chrysanthos Dellarocas, a professor of Management at Boston University, said: "Online forum manipulation strategies can take many forms, and firms (or, depending on the context of interest, political parties and special interest groups) are getting more sophisticated about them by the day. The simplest firm strategy is to anonymously post online reviews praising its own products, or bad-mouthing those of its competitors. There is ample evidence that such manipulation takes place."[14] For instance, Amy Harmon reported about a computer glitch on Amazon.com that suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted book reviews. Several prominent publishers and authors, such as John Rechy, had "pseudonymously written themselves five-star reviews, Amazon's highest rating," and Amazon consequently stopped accepting anonymous reviews.[15] Some marketing firms monitor online forums to ascertain influential contributors, who they offer free samples and special invitations in exchange for writing favorable reviews.[16]

Tactics[edit]

Many practices of Internet Water Army companies are commonly acceptable[by whom?], such as word-of-mouth marketing, viral marketing, marketing buzz, seeding agency, and e-marketing. Some other tactics are considered unacceptable, such as spam in blogs or "comment spam", social networking spam or "social spam", and content farms. Wangluo shuijun techniques employ two kinds of Internet slang "puppetry": sockpuppet "a pseudonym used by someone to distance themselves from their actions, especially to talk about oneself" and meatpuppet "one whose sole reason for participating in a discussion or forum is to support, or express agreement with, a friend."[17]

A 2010 news story on China Central Television[18] listed three customer services of Wangluo shuijun companies: (1) Promotion of a specific product, company, person or message; (2) Smear/slander the competitor or adversary or competitors’ products or services; (3) Help delete negative or unfavorable posts or news articles.[19]

Pricing for "Internet Navy" tactics varies. Shanghai Daily quoted Tang Jing, an employee of the Web PR company Shuijunshiwang.com, that prices range from a "basic zombie" for less than 5 yuan ($0.79) per 1,000 on the internet marketplace Taobao to an "A-level zombie" having "the characteristics of a real person, with a photo, self-description, tags of categories and its own fans" for 120 yuan ($18.86) per 5,000.[20]

Cheng Chen, a computer science researcher at the University of Victoria, and three colleagues made an academic study of Internet water army activities.[21] To learn how online Chinese ghostwriters operate, Cheng registered undercover with an Internet PR company that trained and paid him to make social media postings. Each mission had a project manager; a trainer team that plans schedules, distributes shared user IDs, and maintains quality control; a posters team, typically college students and unemployed people, that gets 30 to 50 cents per validated post; a resources team that registers and collects online user IDs; and a PR team that maintains relationships with social media webmasters.[22]

Legal problems[edit]

Net marketing companies like Wangluo shuijun sometimes operate on murky legal grounds, particularly under international law. The US companies Facebook and Digg sent cease and desist orders to the Australian company uSocial, which ignored them and continues to market "friends" and "votes".[23][24]

China, unlike many countries, has a strict cyber defamation law, and some Wangluo shuijun companies have been accused of violating it.

Wangluo shuijun practices often result in privacy violations or damaged reputations, and the 2009 revision of China's Tort Liability Law stipulated that in such cases, "the victim has the right to inform the Internet service provider (ISP) to delete harmful postings and that the ISP must face joint liability for damages if it fails to act."[25] China's State Council Information Office announced in 2011 that it "is working out laws to regulate the increasing numbers in the "Internet Army." Wang Chen, director of the office, announced that the Chinese government has paid constant attention to the posters and commentators, who have been found damaging social order both in the real and the virtual world."[26]

In 2007, the cosmetics firm Doctor Bai and health-food company BiosTime both sued the consumer protection website 315ts.net for posting fake comments about their products. "Judges eventually ruled in the website's favor because there was no evidence to suggest the posts were not genuine."[27] According to a 2010 China Daily report, Mengniu Dairy denied paying a Wangluo zhujun company to spread false rumors about dairy products of their competitors Yili Group and Synbutra International.[28] The Shanghai Daily reported in 2011 that the online shopping website Taobao shut down over 200 Wangluo shuijun companies selling microblog followers.[29]

Detection[edit]

IT researchers have experimented with statistics and software to detect paid commenters from real-world ones.

An information technology engineer, blogging as "Chen Chuanliang Peter", claimed to have developed software that differentiated paid blog "followers," and found that about 17 percent of followers on Sina's ten most popular microblogs "never interacted or responded to those they were following. In other words, they were zombies."[30]

Cheng Chen et al. chose a detection case study of online comments about the 360 v. Tencent conflict between two major Chinese IT companies, each of which was suspected of paying for postings. In 2010, Qihoo, creator of the anti-virus software 360 Safeguard, claimed that Tencent's instant message client Tencent QQ secretly scanned users' computer disks. After Tencent blocked users of 360 software from using their QQ messaging, controversy erupted on social media websites. Cheng's researchers analyzed two large datasets of 360 v. Tencent postings, over 1000 comments from 200 users on Sohu.com and over 20,000 comments from 500 users on Sina.com. They concluded, "Although both 360 and Tencent claimed that they did not hire online paid posters, we now have strong evidence suggesting the opposite. Some special patterns are definitely unusual, e.g., many negative comments or replies came from newly registered user IDs but these user IDs were seldom used afterwards. This clearly indicates the use of online paid posters."[31] The researchers designed and validated detection software, and concluded, "Our test results with real-world datasets show a very promising performance."[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The translation of neologisms into Chinese sometimes varies regionally; Internet, for instance, is commonly translated as hulianwang 互联网/互聯網 or wangluo 网络/網絡 in the People's Republic of China; or as wangji wanglu 网际网路/網際網路, abbreviated wanglu 网路/網路 in Taiwan.
  2. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.
  3. ^ "Shuijunshiwan". Wayback.archive.org. 2010-11-16. Archived from the original on 2010-11-16. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  4. ^ Bruce Sterling, The Chinese online ‘Water Army’, Wired, June 25, 2010.
  5. ^ Daniel Z. Sui, Mapping and Modeling Strategic Manipulation and Adversarial Propaganda in Social Media: Towards a tipping point/critical mass model, Mapping Ideas: Discovering and Information Landscape, 6/29/2011 – 6/30/2011, San Diego State University
  6. ^ Mo Hong'e, Internet ghostwriters, team-buying and more: China's new media in 2010 Xinhuanet, 2011-01-05.
  7. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.
  8. ^ Adam Clark Estes, he Spam-Slinging Habits of China's Internet Water Army, The Atlantic Wire, November 23, 2011.
  9. ^ "Zombies" and "phantom" fans haunt online statistics, 2011-11-22.
  10. ^ Friends for sale: What is a Facebook friend worth?, The Economist, September 17, 2009.
  11. ^ Hamilton Nolan, Blog Bribes: The Shady Marketing Scheme That’s Buying Off Your Favorite Bloggers Archived 2011-12-06 at the Wayback Machine., Gawker, October 26, 2011.
  12. ^ Adario Strange, Hacking Social Media: Subvert And Profit Vs. Digg, Wired Epicenter, April 5, 2007.
  13. ^ Subvert and Profit.
  14. ^ Chrysanthos Dellarocas (2004), Strategic Manipulation of Internet Opinion Forums, MIT Sloan Working Papers No. 4501-04.
  15. ^ Amy Harmon (2004), Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers, The New York Times, February 14, 2004.
  16. ^ Dellarocas (2004) mentions Electricartists.com, which is now Bondinfluence.com.
  17. ^ Definitions from Wiktionary.
  18. ^ (焦点访谈)揭秘网络"推广", CCTV 2010.11.7.
  19. ^ Tr. by Sui (2011).
  20. ^ Shanghai Daily (2011).
  21. ^ Cheng Chen, Kui Wu, Venkatesh Srinivasan, and Xudong Zhang, Battling the Internet Water Army: Detection of Hidden Paid Posters arXiv, Cornell University Library.
  22. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 3
  23. ^ Facebook acts on follower trade, BBC News, 20 November 2009.
  24. ^ Michael Learmonth, Want 5,000 More Facebook Friends? That'll Be $654.30, Advertising Age September 02, 2009.
  25. ^ Mo (2010).
  26. ^ Taobao takes aim at 'Internet Army', Shanghai Daily, January 7, 2011.
  27. ^ Duan Yan The invisible hands behind Web postings, China Daily, 2010-06-17.
  28. ^ Chen Xiu, Dairy giant Mengniu in smear scandal, China Daily 2010-10-21.
  29. ^ Shanghai Daily (2011).
  30. ^ Xinhua (2011).
  31. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 3.
  32. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.

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