Thursday, February 29, 2024

How China tames dissent on the Internet

Chinese authorities leaders, diffused masters of propaganda, seem to have discovered a Sun Tzu formula for taming dissent on the Internet: The satisfactory method might not be to confront critics directly but to lull or distract them with a tide of correct news.

This interesting argument is recommended through an American Political Science Review article titled “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument.” Complex information helps an easy thesis about lifestyles in the Internet age: Arguing the records regularly doesn’t paintings; often, confrontation makes human beings withstand tougher.

The study analyzes China; however, its implications apply to America during the age of Donald Trump. As I referred to in a column in August, Trump’s supporters are often impervious to truth-primarily based arguments. Trump’s base has stayed dependable because of his inauguration, despite his loss of legislative achievements and his impulsive, arguably unethical moves. Why is this so? Read on.

The Chinese case examines the same problem Ogilvy Public Relations govt-became-behavioral scientist Christopher Graves explored. He summed up the constraints of factual argument in an October 2016 article in Harvard Business Review, “When Saying Something Nice Is the Only Way to Change Someone’s Mind.” That’s a lesson Trump critics haven’t discovered. Trump makes inflammatory statements, opponents howl in outrage, and his middle supporters applaud. The deadlock is maintained.

Let’s get again to China. That country provides an Internet puzzle that became tested through Gary King of Harvard University, Jennifer Pan of Stanford University, and Margaret Roberts of California at San Diego. (Their paintings became highlighted for me using Eileen Donahoe of Stanford.) The paradox is that China probably has the world’s most prolific social media hobby. However, its authoritarian government additionally fears opposition. So, how does Beijing preserve control?

The three American researchers desired to test the widely held concept that the Chinese authorities mobilize a military of more than one million Internet commentators to fight criticism of the regime. This supposed cadre of idea police is regularly defined as “Fifty Cents” because analysts believe they have been paid a small amount for every publisher that recommended the party line and rebutted foreign critics.

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To check how the device labored, the researchers studied a cache of 43,797 Fifty Cent posts leaked in 2014 from the Internet Propaganda Office of Zhanggong District in Jiangxi province in southeast China. Nearly all had been from folks who labored at authorities corporations (and there has been no proof they were paid whatever, let alone 50 cents a put up). Their missives spiked sharply on anniversaries of protests and other days when there might be public dissent, making clear they were well-prepared

The Marvel turned into that the posts weren’t argumentative. Instead, they had been bland birthday party pabulum. About 80 percent of the seats were “cheerleading” about authority sports, 14 percent have been non-argumentative rewards or tips, and almost none have been outright assaults. Other Internet samples yielded similar findings.

The Chinese precept concluded that American researchers “do not interact on controversial problems.” Only when there was a risk of collective motion would the government intrude at once. It became as though the birthday celebration propagandists have been adapting the famous warning of Sun Tzu, the revered 6th-century B.C. Strategist: “The ideal art of warfare is to subdue the enemy without combating.”

The researchers supplied a concluding notion that’s relevant in this period, while statistics operations have emerged as a site of covert action (as verified via the Russian authorities’ hacking of the 2016 election) in addition to home manipulation: “Letting a controversy die, or changing the challenge, generally works tons better than selecting an issue and getting someone’s returned up.”

What happens when we ignore this principle and assault our political adversaries head-on? The 2016 election and its aftermath can be an object lesson. Evidence of wrongdoing may also seem overwhelming if it confirms your pre-existing ideas, but not if it was demanding situations with those middle biases. Graves noted this “backfire effect,” as journalist David McRaney explained in a 2011 essay: “When your private convictions are challenged via contradictory evidence, your ideas get stronger.”

The lesson of this social science studies? If a political narrative is frequently repeated sufficiently, sponsored by using a refrain of cheerleaders, it’s tough to dispute immediately. Quiet persuasion may be more powerful than shouting; the sluggish accretion of data may also have a greater effect than a barrage. To quote Sun Tzu once more: “The rule is, now, not to besiege walled towns if it may in all likelihood be averted.”

William J. McGoldrick
William J. McGoldrick
Passionate beer maven. Social media advocate. Hipster-friendly music scholar. Thinker. Garnered an industry award while merchandising cannibalism in Gainesville, FL. Have some experience importing human hair in Minneapolis, MN. Won several awards for consulting about race cars in the government sector. Crossed the country developing strategies for clip-on ties in Washington, DC. Spent a weekend implementing Virgin Mary figurines in West Palm Beach, FL. Had moderate success promoting Elvis Presley in Ocean City, NJ.

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