China’s state-run media agency, Xinhua, recently announced that former top politician Bo Xilai, who was purged from the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party last year, has been charged with “bribery, embezzlement, and power abuse.” Bo is a highly controversial figure, and his detention and sentencing have been the topic of much discussion — and much censorship. Online reaction to the latest news shows that authorities have gone beyond deleting comments supporting Bo to coordinating the posting of comments opposing him. Though recent changes have indicated China is fine-tuning its social media censorship to make it less obvious, this effort is a return to more heavy-handed propagandizing.
The comments on the announcements of Bo’s trial included those supporting the punishment of corrupt individuals like Bo regardless of status, but also included comments indicating that Bo’s trial was proof of the government’s determination to fight corruption. In fact, the phrase “determination to fight corruption” appeared in almost half of the comments, a sampling of which are below:
@笨笨糖q：The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee pays great attention to this case, and has reacted quickly and enforced the law with strength, fully showing our Party’s determination to fight corruption.中共中央对此案的高度重视、快速反应、惩处力度，充分表明了我党对腐败的惩治决心。
@pipipi1991：All are equal before the law, and no corrupt person is excused. The trial of Bo Xilai fully demonstrates the Central Committee’s determination to fight corruption. I support the central government, I support the trial! Anyone who violates the law should be seriously punished.法律面前人人平等，对任何腐败分子都决不姑息。薄熙来案件审理充分体现了中央反腐决心，支持中央，支持审判！任何人只要触犯了法律，都该严惩
@下雨天适合睡懒觉：I trust the Central Court will definitely fairly and justly carry out the trial. Every person, regardless of their status, must be punished in accordance with the country’s laws.相信中央法院一定会公平公正的审理，任何一个人无论身份任何特殊国家法律一律都要受到国家法律的制裁。
Leaked censorship directives have revealed that the government recently ordered social media sites to delete all pro-Bo commentary. Yet the tone, content, and homogeneous nature of the Weibo commentary on Bo’s trial indicate that authorities have also produced new commentary to fill the gap created by that censorship. This is not a new practice: in China, commenters known as the “50 Cent Party” allegedly receive 50 cents per pro-government comment.
Though virtually all pro-Bo comments were effectively scrubbed, a few anti-50 Cent comments remained. Remarked user @map追梦人, “The two commenters below me are 50 centers楼下俩五毛~.” Another was more inflammatory, writing in English: ”grass 50 fen’s sister.” In Chinese, “fen” means “cent,” and “grass” is a homophone for “f*ck.”