Internet Water Army

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On the Internet in 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. Internet water armies were born in the early 2010s.[1]These paid posters can post news, comments, gossip, disinformation on some online platforms such as Weibo, WeChat and Taobao, China's eBay-like platform.[2] 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. It has been developed into an industry in which a company specializing in internet water army can earn 7.6 million RMB within three months and has made over 2500 transactions. [3] 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.

Related 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.[4]

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;[5] Hamilton Nolan, a blog editor at Gawker, revealed a marketing agency that offered bribes – first $130, then $175 – for linking their clients' websites.[6] Adario Strange reported on Internet advertising companies trying to game Digg's ranking system through paying registered users for votes.[7] 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).[8]

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."[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] Some marketing firms monitor online forums to ascertain influential contributors, who they offer free samples and special invitations in exchange for writing favorable reviews.[12]

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".[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

Besides the literal "Internet Water Army" or "Internet Navy," other English translations include "Online Water Army,"[16] and "Army of Water",[17] plus explanations of "Internet ghostwriters",[18] and "hidden paid posters".[19] 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."[20]

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."[21]

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.

Features[edit]

Paid postings involve thousands of individuals and posters use different online IDs.[22]Every day, around 40 percent of the trending hashtags on the social media platform are created by Internet water armies.[23]The content is usually well-prepared and there is a quality control team to check whether the postings meet the customer's standard. [22]Some companies hire Internet water army to leave good comments under their selling products' feedback, and some singers or film stars also pay them to be fake followers on Weibo, the Chinese twitter. The price for posting good comments and bad comments is different and it depends on the content. If there are negative reviews about a product or some gossip targeting a person, he needs to pay the Internet water army for screening and deleting those negative reviews.[22]

There is some difference between internet water army and 50 cent party. The concept of 50 cent party is narrower since it only refers to paid posters who deflect political discussions and post any positive and supporting reviews related with the central government. According to a Harvard study in 2017, it is estimated that there are 448 million social media comments fabricated by the "50 cent party" hired by Chinese government. [24]These comments avoid touching upon controversial and sensitive issues.

Types[edit]

There is no limitation to joining the Internet water army. Low-end migrants, housewives and students are the main force. [25]

There are basically three types of Internet water army[26]. The first type is the one which voluntarily spreads the posts promoting social justice[26]. The second type is the one mainly hired by the government or state-owned companies to promote propaganda or ensure social stability[26]. The third type is the one working for private companies, such as public relations companies, to pursue their own interest[26].

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."[27]

A 2010 news story on China Central Television[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

Cheng Chen, a computer science researcher at the University of Victoria, and three colleagues made an academic study of Internet water army activities.[31] 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.[32] 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.[32]

Reasons[edit]

Online marketing in China has become a big and profitable business and has spawned many Internet public relations agencies.[33]Internet water armies working for these PR firms not only advertise products but also remove any negative feedback they find.[33]

In recent years, many celebrity agencies in the entertainment industry and their die-hard fans are willing to spend millions of yuan to hire Internet water armies to generate positive online reviews for their songs, movies, etc.[34]These Internet water armies range from a handful of people to hundreds, and help those celebrities inflate their social media accounts' followers with thousands of completely useless followers.[35]Besides, some entertainment companies also use Internet water armies to bump up film ratings and smear a rival's reputation. [35]

For many people who join the "Internet water army", they think online paid posters is a new type of online part-time job opportunity and it's an easy way to make money.[36]With the pervasiveness of personal computers and smart phones as well as the easy-to-use microblogging, the income of Internet water armies is a primary reason why many people choose to join them.[37]More than 60% of Internet water armies earn more than a thousand yuan per month by posting and deleting reviews.[38]

Current Affairs[edit]

After Cybersecurity Law came into effect in June, 2017, Chinese government paid more attention to crack down on fake news and rumors online. China is battling with the Internet water army.

In 2017, Chinese Internet regulator imposed strict bans on hiring paid posters as a part of a sweeping campaign to tighten the Internet control[39]. Police arrested more than 200 people in 40 water army cases and closed 5,000 paid poster accounts since May, 2017.[40]In June, a man was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison and fined 920,000 yuan ($135,000)  for generating fake transactions and product reviews on Taobao.[41]This is the first judicial case that a suspect was charged with this offense in China.[41]

In July 2018, the producer of Asura,a Chinese epic fantasy film based on Buddhist mythology, said that their movie's rating was brought down by fake comments on an influential rating platform. [42]Therefore, many Chinese young people generally ask their friends' comments about a movie as they know the feedback online is not reliable.

In August 2018, Guangzhou’s latest move targeting the Internet water army was about a larger scale crackdown launched by China’s public security authority, invloving 77 suspects and 4 million yuan ($635,000).[43]

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".[44][45]

China, unlike many countries, has a strict cyber defamation law, and some Wangluo shuijun companies have been accused of violating it.[46]

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."[47] 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."[48]

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."[49] 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.[50] The Shanghai Daily reported in 2011 that the online shopping website Taobao shut down over 200 Wangluo shuijun companies selling microblog followers.[51]

Detection[edit]

Internet water armies is a big threat for cyber security.[52] IT researchers have experimented with statistics and software to detect paid commenters from real-world ones.

Some scholars adopt dirichlet process mixture model (DPMM) based GSP algorithm to detect Internet water armies from Tianya forum.[53]They use DPMM to get effective analysis of the Internet water army's user behavior and use the sequential pattern mining algorithms to detect those paid posters' accounts.[53]

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."[54]

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[32]. 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."[55] The researchers designed and validated detection software, and concluded, "Our test results with real-world datasets show a very promising performance."[56]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chen, Na (Mon Mar 12 06:26:07 PDT 2018). "Guns for Hire: China's Social Media Militia Engage on Command". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 2018-11-20. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Zhang, Qibin. "揭秘"网络水军"生意经:只要给钱 什么新闻都能发 (Disclosing the business "internet water army": you pay, we post)". m.news.cctv.com. Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  3. ^ Zhang, Qibin. "揭秘"网络水军"生意经:只要给钱 什么新闻都能发 (Disclosing the business "internet water army": you pay, we post)". m.news.cctv.com. Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  4. ^ King, Gary (April 9, 2017). "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument" (PDF). line feed character in |title= at position 45 (help)
  5. ^ Friends for sale: What is a Facebook friend worth?, The Economist, September 17, 2009.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Adario Strange, Hacking Social Media: Subvert And Profit Vs. Digg, Wired Epicenter, April 5, 2007.
  8. ^ Subvert and Profit.
  9. ^ Chrysanthos Dellarocas (2004), Strategic Manipulation of Internet Opinion Forums, MIT Sloan Working Papers No. 4501-04.
  10. ^ Harmon, Amy (February 4, 2004). "Amazon Glitch Unmasks War Of Reviewers".
  11. ^ Amy Harmon (2004), Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers, The New York Times, February 14, 2004.
  12. ^ Dellarocas (2004) mentions Electricartists.com, which is now Bondinfluence.com.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.
  15. ^ "Shuijunshiwan". Wayback.archive.org. 2010-11-16. Archived from the original on 2010-11-16. Retrieved 2014-05-19.
  16. ^ Bruce Sterling, The Chinese online ‘Water Army’, Wired, June 25, 2010.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Mo Hong'e, Internet ghostwriters, team-buying and more: China's new media in 2010 Xinhuanet, 2011-01-05.
  19. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.
  20. ^ Adam Clark Estes, he Spam-Slinging Habits of China's Internet Water Army Archived 2012-04-26 at the Wayback Machine, The Atlantic Wire, November 23, 2011.
  21. ^ "Zombies" and "phantom" fans haunt online statistics, 2011-11-22.
  22. ^ a b c arXiv, Emerging Technology from the. "Undercover Researchers Expose Chinese Internet Water Army". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 2018-11-09.
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  24. ^ King, Gary; Pan, Jennifer; Margarete, Roberts. "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument". Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  25. ^ "Guangzhou cracks down on "internet water army", China's version of fake followers · TechNode". TechNode. 2018-02-06. Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  26. ^ a b c d Yang, Zhihuang. "网络水军类型、多重信用及其治理 (Types and Governance of the Internet Water Army)". www.cssn.cn. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  27. ^ Definitions from Wiktionary.
  28. ^ (焦点访谈)揭秘网络"推广", CCTV 2010.11.7.
  29. ^ Tr. by Sui (2011).
  30. ^ Shanghai Daily (2011).
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  39. ^ Lianzhang, Wang (Fri Aug 25 04:48:53 PDT 2017). "China Bars Netizens From Commenting Anonymously". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 2018-11-20. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  40. ^ Liu, Yizhan. "起底"网络水军"犯罪活动:只要客户给钱,什么内容都能发(Criminal activities of "Internet water army")". www.infzm.com. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  41. ^ a b Ni, Xueying. "网购刷单第一案组织者获刑5年9个月(First judicial case,men imprisoned for generating fake transactions)". www.bjnews.com.cn. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
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  44. ^ Facebook acts on follower trade, BBC News, 20 November 2009.
  45. ^ Michael Learmonth, Want 5,000 More Facebook Friends? That'll Be $654.30, Advertising Age September 02, 2009.
  46. ^ "China's strict new cybersecurity law ensnares Japanese companies". Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  47. ^ Mo (2010).
  48. ^ Taobao takes aim at 'Internet Army', Shanghai Daily, January 7, 2011.
  49. ^ Duan Yan The invisible hands behind Web postings, China Daily, 2010-06-17.
  50. ^ Chen Xiu, Dairy giant Mengniu in smear scandal, China Daily 2010-10-21.
  51. ^ Shanghai Daily (2011).
  52. ^ Zheng, Lei (2013-10-01). "Social media in Chinese government: Drivers, challenges and capabilities". Government Information Quarterly. 30 (4): 369–376. doi:10.1016/j.giq.2013.05.017. ISSN 0740-624X.
  53. ^ a b Li, Dan; Li, Qian; Hu, Yue; Niu, Wenjia; Tan, Jianlong; Guo, Li (2014), "An Approach to Detect the Internet Water Army via Dirichlet Process Mixture Model Based GSP Algorithm", Applications and Techniques in Information Security, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 82–95, doi:10.1007/978-3-662-45670-5_9, ISBN 9783662456699, retrieved 2018-11-09
  54. ^ Xinhua (2011).
  55. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 3.
  56. ^ Cheng et al. (2011), p. 1.

External links[edit]