[Part III] What Dark Forces Are There on The Chinese Internet
1. Spammers (水军)
We have already gone into some length talking about spammers in the previous article, so here, I am just going to add a few more details.
In China, spammers are called "Cyber Water Army" (网络水军), they are copywriters hired to post comments under specific online contents. They are active in all kinds of online platforms, including e-commerce sites and apps, forums, and social networking platforms such as Weibo.
They disguise themselves as normal netizens or customers, influencing other normal users by either writing their own posts or forwarding the ones written by others.
For spammers to work, it takes both handlers and clients.
A handler is usually an online PR company that has its "own" spammers. Under the request of a client, the PR company plans and organizes a certain publicity stunt on the internet. Its copywriters come up with the material, which is hyped by spammers.
A client can be either an advertiser or an insider with a juicy scoop or specific agenda.
As an advertiser, through the hype created by the handler’s spammers, his/her advertisement receives more exposure and more viewings.
And as an insider with a scoop, which is usually something bad against a certain organization or individual, the handler’s spammers can help the insider to hype the scoop and let it reach as many netizens as possible. And the insider most certainly has some personal gains involved for wanting to expose the scoop in the first place.
There are professional spammers and casual spammers.
A professional spammer is usually someone who has got a large number of followers on Weibo, or someone who is at least a micro-influencer. By utilizing his/her impact among his/her followers, a professional spammer gives either an advertisement or a scoop a powerful boost, while their followers play the role of an unwitting pawn by spreading the ad/scoop further.
A casual spammer can be anybody with an online identity, he/she can be an ordinary netizen doing his/her own ordinary things, watching online videos, posting updates on the social media, interacting with cyberpals.
However, when the occasion arises and a causal spammer is activated, he/she can post some pre-edited remarks on his/her social media account, such as Weibo, to give the designated ad/scoop some extra boost.
A casual spammer’s effort is usually small, so is his/her impact; therefore, a number of casual spammers are usually commissioned at the same time for the desired effect. So their price is also cheap, usually no more than 10 yuan per post.
Even professional spammers remain inactive unless an “assignment” arrives, therefore spotting a spammer is quite hard, this is especially so when many ordinary netizens are also influenced by the spammers into posting the same thing.
And in the case of Sean Xiao Incident, because it has been going on for so long and so many different parties are involved, and it took place during the Covid-19 outbreak and attracted many idle people’s participation (with nowhere to go but practicing social-distancing at home), that the whole situation is a giant mess.
But there are clues, indicating certain netizens as being part of the professional spammers' establishment.
Like this Weibo user who has got over 178 thousand followers. Almost all her Webio posts are attacking Xiao, but none of them have got any evidence backing up the remark. So reading her Weibo page is kind of like reading some low-level sensational journalism stuff.
For instance, she drew this above picture as her reaction regarding Xiao’s single passing 100 million yuan in sales, with the caption: This is Sean Shaw whom I drew. #SeanXiaoForcesMinorsSpendingMoney.
It was reposted more than 43 thousand times and received over 257 thousand likes. And many of her followers expressed their admiration to the picture and hate toward Xiao, although there was never any evidence strong enough to suggest that it was the underage fans who were the major patrons of the single.
But sensation so often triumphs over rationality, and spammers know about it well.
2. Wumao (五毛
This type of netizens is the precursor of today’s spammers. And they first came out around ten years ago.
Wumao is the Chinese pinyin which means 50 cents RMB.
“People who are allegedly and secretly paid five mao (50 cents RMB) per post/comment that praises, supports, or defends from criticism/attack the country, government, or Communist Party. Netizens who are very nationalistic are often accused of being part of the ‘50 cent party’ spreading propaganda or ‘guiding’ public opinion.”
And according to Baidu, Wumao are those who post content (usually in the form of comments) on the forums for money. And the original spammers were called Wumao because apart from receiving a basic salary, for every post they created they could earn an extra 0.5 yuan.
3. Trolls/ranters (喷子)
Trolls, or ranters, are netizens who refuse to listen to reason and always make illogical accusations on the internet. They seek personal satisfaction by viciously lashing out on others regardless of any sense or logic.
Trolls/ranters are found active everywhere, such as Weibo, news comment section, forums, online games, streaming platforms, and WeChat. And they tend to team up and act together.
A lot of information on the internet is fragmented, which lacks displaying the full picture of things. This provides trolls/ranters the perfect battleground since they do not care about right or wrong.
A troll/ranter usually does not have a very high personal quality, he/she is a product of superiority complex who thinks that he/she is one of a kind.
And verbally attacking others is a way for trolls/ranters to blow off steam as well since they do not have to be held accountable for what they say on the internet.
The Sean Xiao Incident is like an amusement park for trolls/ranters. When you watch a Xiao-related video on Bilibili, you can see them making all sorts of trashy comments, attacking both Xiao and his fans.
And on Weibo, there is a Super Topic called “The 227 Historical Moments”, which is like trolls/ranter paradise. And a troll/ranter post like the one below is very popular in the Super Topic:
“I really wanna get ‘Sean Xiao Going Down’ tattooed on my arm to show my hatred [towards him], but I’m afraid of it being discovered by my parents and teachers. My dad doesn’t even allow me to get my ears pierced, so I’d be as good as dead if I get a tattoo! So I just got this tattoo sticker made on Taobao. There’re tons of it so I can just stick a new one when an old one peels off! Until the day I die! These four words shall serve as a constant reminder of how much I hate him!
“I’ve got tons of it, so if anyone wants some, just forward this post or leave a comment below. I’ll randomly choose five of you and give out the tattoo stickers.
“The war does not end until Sean Xiao goes down!”
According to an anonymous source, trolling/ranting is a mode of business. Trolling/ranting gains traffic, and traffic brings money.
A person attracts followers on his/her social media account by trolling about a celebrity who is under fire. And when enough followers are gained under this account, he/she either sells it for money or starts to post all sorts of advertisements, such as facial masks or bracelets.
Therefore, some trolls/ranters not only have a low character, but they also make money by acting low online. Maybe they should be called the Low-Blow Trolls.
4. Provokers (杠精)
Provokers, aka Devil's Advocates, is the kind of netizens who always provoke others or hold an opposite opinion in an argument, as a means to get satisfaction.
They do not care whether they are on the side of the right or the wrong, as long as they get to successfully make others angry by twisting the logic.
Provokers often appear to be quick-witted and think themselves quite knowledgeable, but the truth cannot be far from it.
Provokers can be quite hurtful to a good internet environment, especially when there are too many of them. For instance, it is not surprising to see some provokers accusing a piece of news reporting people suffering from poverty “damaging the perfect image of our country”.
5. Keyboard Men (键盘侠)
Keyboard Men are the kind of netizens who act cowardly in real-life situations but take the moral high ground on the internet in expressing righteous opinions.
They can also be the kind of netizens who are usually introverted or low-keyed in real life, but are very extroverted and active on the internet when interacting with other netizens.
Some keyboard men have a good sense of responsibility and reason, so the things they say online make a lot of sense and gain a lot of respect.
However, some of them tend to talk about every aspect of the society, whether they really know about it or not, and also because the anonymity the internet provides gives them a sense of security, they usually make flawed arguments or follow others’ thinking, therefore are easily taken advantage of.