Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anderson, Is that Yu?

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has formed a special force of undercover online commentators to try to sway public opinion on controversial issues on the Internet, a newspaper said on Thursday.

China has struggled to gain control over the Internet as more and more people gain access to obtain information beyond official sources. The country has nearly 100 million Internet users, according to official figures, and the figure is rising.

A special force of online commentators had already been operating in Suqian city in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu since April, the Southern Weekend said.

Their job was to defend the government when negative comments appeared on Internet bulletin boards and chatrooms, the weekly quoted local officials as saying.

Suqian city's propaganda department recruited the commentators from among government officials, the weekly said, adding that they must "understand (government) policies, be versed in (political) theories and be politically reliable."

"They will guide public opinion as ordinary netizens. This is both important and effective," Ma Zhichun, one of the recruited commentators, was quoted as saying.

The only netizen I ever knew from China, Anderson Yu, seemed to be a government stooge. Or at least a stooge. The problem with being an advocate on a bulletin board is that you've got to defend your arguments. You're free to ignore the facts, change the subject, or deride your opponent, but very few minds are changed by that kind of advocacy.