Taobao takes aim at 'Internet Army'

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Shanghai Daily, January 7, 2011
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The country's leading e-commerce platform yesterday shut down a total of 200-plus online vendors who were selling microblog "followers," who are hired by individuals to follow them on their microblogs to increase their popularity.

It is the first attack on the online promoters this year - the action aims to thwart the grey industry of selling microblog followers.

But the "follower sellers" are only one part of the country's massive "Internet Army" - a popular buzzword for posters hired by promoters and companies.

They are also nicknamed the "Half-yuan Gang" because they are allegedly paid only 0.50 yuan (7 US cents) for each post. The first batch of the "gang members" was allegedly working for the government to comment on current politics or latest news as a way of guiding other netizens into opinions favored by the government.

But ironically, as more and more companies try to play the game of "opinion guidance," the practice has finally caught the attention of the Chinese government.

For the first time, China's State Council Information Office announced last week that the country 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.

A Shanghai Daily investigation has found that on one of the "Army's" portal sites - - netizens may join them by chatting with the leaders via QQ, a popular online -communication tool.

The leaders assign missions to the members, including attacking or praising someone they have never met or slandering or hyping up a product that they have never used - the members may earn 0.20 yuan to 100 yuan for each completed mission, depending on the difficulty.

Some netizens say that was the answer to previously raised questions about why some ordinary people may become hot Internet celebrities overnight, or why a seemingly normal product may attract so much attention from netizens, who seemed to be lauding the products voluntarily.

At present, China has no definitive law which can be used to combat the practice, which has helped it grow in scale over the past few years. Taobao banned online vendors because they violated the platform's regulations, but they are not breaking the law.

"The country is in urgent need of new laws to combat the practice," said local lawyer Wu Dong, "Although they are not directly damaging individuals' rights online, they are damaging the order of the whole network."

But Wu also voiced his concern on making the laws as they may be abused by some authorities to violate netizens' freedom of speech.

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