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> we are all Ai Weiwei Who’s Who on the Chinese Free Speech Internet?
Ai Weiwei on grass mud horse, protest poster Neural 39 > p.7 > hacktivism > Who’s Who on the Chinese Free Speech Internet?
Hong Kong protester masked as Ai Weiwei
/On April 3 2011, Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most influential artists and social commentators, was detained at Beijing airport and disappeared without any further notice to his wife and family. The lack of legal procedures around his detainment and the official state rhetoric about his supposed misdemeanors has caused much consternation, internationally and within China. There are stirrings amongst his fanbase and the larger prodemocracy groups in the greater China region—journalists, artists, critics, and activists who opined with him incessantly and saw him as a last-standing figure of integrity. The free Ai Weiwei movement has also reached beyond his individual plight and revealed deeper cracks between a generation weened on cyberculture and the agents of the Chinese Communist Party. Both camps use online virtual identities and “masked” personalities to state their purposes, so it is unclear “who is who” in this war over human rights. Ai Weiwei is widely admired precisely because he is a rare figure able to speak with clarity about the power of the Chinese Internet, the need for the youth to seek outlets, and his pessimism about the Chinese cultural environment. While the agents of CCP use social networks and online identities to guide public opinion on the Internet, activists are also at work trying to manoeuvre subjectivity and state opposition. Activists are openly deconstructing strategies of government infiltration, like blogger Love AiLove Aiweiwei who has been exposing the pro-government bloggers – the infamous “50 Cent Army” (五毛党, wumáodang), netizens who are paid by the CCP to troll online and post comments. The blogger believes that activists are outnumbered by the 50 Cent Army: “They are indeed everywhere.” The blogger, who compiles a list of their inscrutable names and profiles ---sd78hgm 67hhl, cxxxgg778, etc., has stated that Time Magazine’s 2011 “Poll for Most Influential Person” was most likely infiltrated by the 50 Cent Army as 10,000 people voted against Ai Wei Wei, which points to orchestrated cyber action. Love Ai-Love Ai WeiWei also compiles unusually elaborate comments on his own blog, which he believes are written by the 50 Cents. Take for example the following: “It is widely known that Ai is a exhibitionist, especially showing his genital on the Internet so that Internet users can get a chance to be stimulated. Therefore it's not difficult for us to see what a pervert he is, not to add that only his perverted fellow followers are able to appreciate such abnormal behavior”  This comment may appear to be over the top, but actually is in line with one of the official government directives against Ai, whose work does include humorously naked self-portraits. The first government bulletins against Ai after his disappearance, accused him of being an inferior artist who spreads pornographic content.  The 50 cent bloggers are indeed paid to praise government policies or to organize smear campaigns against those who disrupt “social harmony”. As explained by an informant who worked as a 50 cent blogger, “originally bloggers would be paid 50 cents for each. However, in reality, they could earn a lot more money as the payment rates would depend on Internet popularity, or the number of hits and comments left by other web users. For instance, if a certain post received one thousand responses, then there could be a payment of one thousand yuan (about 100 euros).” Mao Lei, Head of the Internet Department of the Zhoukou City Communist Youth League Committee, explains that cadres often mask themselves as ordinary web users in order to smoothly influence public opinion: “We usually participate in online discussions using the identity of ordinary netizens. When there are uncivilized acts or inappropriate discussions, we actively admonish those who write the comments … Aside from this, we put a lot of emphasis on the work of guiding the opinions of young people, expressing correct opinions about hot current events in a timely manner.” (Henan People Daily, 2009) Since the early days of Internet surveillance, activists have playfully manipulated language and identities to misguide and baffle nefarious surveillance. I have admired how they manipulated the animal figure, “Grass Mud Horse,” an anti-censorship Internet meme initiated in 2009. The Grass Mud Horse was originally a symbol of vulgarity protesting China’s extreme anti-pornography legislation, but then it started to be used as a surreal and