Interview With a Paid Troll


In China, you can make money posting pro-government arguments in comment threads. Ai Weiwei has interviewed a man who says he's one of these online propagandists. Here's an excerpt:

I miss the human touch an analog Red Guard brought to the job.
Jay Kinney

Generally, it works with one of us, or a small group of us, being responsible for certain major websites. I principally deal with a number of our BBS (bulletin-board) sites and major news portals, and I'll often spend time in the news section at The work flow is generally in three major steps like this—receive a task, then begin searching for topics, and after that begin making posts to channel public opinion. So next I'll get in to the specifics of what each step entails.

So receiving a task basically means making sure you check your e-mail every day, often checking your messages, or we set up a QQ Group. But generally we don't talk about this content in the Group. We generally just say there's work to be done, and remind everyone to check their e-mails. Generally, after something happens, and sometimes before new stories even break, we'll receive an e-mail. It will tell you first about the incident, about the news, and then tell you what orientation to take. So it tells you a general ideological orientation, and you go and channel the ideas of web users toward that orientation, or you go and blur the focus of web users, or you might go and stir the emotions of web users [over some issue]…Once you understand these instructions, you begin to select your subjects [or objectives], finding relevant news or articles on websites and then writing one's own articles, making posts [in the responsesection, and responding to other responses, all along the lines of the general orientation given above. This requires a lot of skill. You must hide your own identity. And you can't write in too official a way. You have to write articles of many different styles. Sometimes this means talking, fighting and disputing with yourself. Essentially, it's about creating a facade and then channeling web users over to you. The art of doing this is actually quite profound.

Don't let this happen to you!
Jay Kinney

In fact, in a single forum you have to play three different roles. One is the leader. Another is the follower. The third is the observer, which is to say the masses ignorant of the facts. So first off is the leader. This is a speaker with relative authority. The leader generally steps into the debate later on, drawing out strong evidence with which to speak. The language from this character is relatively authoritative. Generally, the public will view this sort of person as credible. As to the second, the follower, there are basically two types, two types in opposition. These two characters are constantly debating and arguing, and even name calling, in opposition in the forum. This serves to draw the attention of observers. Then, in the end, the leader steps out, drawing on strong evidence. And ultimately, public opinion is drawn over to this third side [of the leader]. You could say we are like directors, and we write, direct and act all on our own, and in this way influence our audience. So there are times when I feel my personality is quite split.

You can read more of the interview here. You can read the rest of Jay Kinney's comic Red Guard Romance here. You can accuse each other of being suspiciously faithful to the Beijing line here.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: ObamaCare Appeals Panel Unveiled, Juan Williams Joins Ron Paul's Revolution, AP Goes to the Mat for OBL Photos

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Isn’t this pretty much what Cass Sunstein has been advocating?

  2. I was sure it was going to be Dave Weigel when I read the thread title.

  3. You can accuse each other of being suspiciously faithful to the Beijing line here.

    Hey, our trolls tow the government lion for FREE. So it’s totally different.

    1. Are you sure they do it for free? Hmmm…time for a new conspiracy theory.

      1. not free. i had to relocate to chicago for dat frees gumint monies !

  4. I didn’t realize Max was Chinese.

    1. You didn’t notice what a plick he is?

      1. too easy.

    2. Hey, don’t forget us, you dickheads.

      1. Now we know what motives “THE TRUTH”…

  5. Now that sockpuppetry has the Chinese stamp of approval, I expect the comments on Friedman articles to be more contentious, although Friedman’s defenders will always win out.

  6. The TROOOOOOTH, unmasked.

  7. So he gets paid a Troll Toll, right?

    1. then where is the boy’s hole?

      1. it’s SOUL

        I’M UP TO HERE

  8. This whole site is just Nick Gillespie arguing with himself.

  9. There is strong argument indicating that it is.

    1. Yes, you have convinced me.

    2. Arguments nourish the jacket.

      1. …and the blood of virgins… but arguments, yeah. Easier to find than drinking Dave Weigel blood.

        1. I am of the persuasion that his having taken at least a mile of dick up the butt, renders Weigel a non-virgin.

          1. technical virgin! The best kind!

  10. As to the second, the follower, there are basically two types, two types in opposition. These two characters are constantly debating and arguing, and even name calling, in opposition in the forum. This serves to draw the attention of observers.

    So this is what the

    Episiarch vs. Rather


    John vs. MNG

    episodes are all about!

    Well played,, well played.

    (Just kidding John – your disputes with MNG and others are in a different class than the other pair I just mentioned.)

    1. Draco, nothing wrong with your preference of boy on boy

    2. I think Rather is Episiarch’s ex wife.

      1. That’s funny, John, because I thought she was your mom.

        1. Nothing says she can’t be both Dad.

          1. gross.

          2. John, I hate to break it to you…your father…is your mother. Can I call you Grendel?

            1. Can I just say I love you all

        2. A+, with a Gold Star for the coffee I spewed all over my desk.

        3. All I want is for you to taste my poopy. Is that so wrong?

    3. Plenty of people dump on rather. It’s more Episiarch versus anonopussy, but I’ll give you John vs. MNG.

      1. My current theory holds that rather is anonopussy.

        Surreptitiously ban her for three days and passive-aggressive anonymized micro-comments would disappear.

        1. but rather has his own troll anonbot.

      2. “Plenty of people dump on rather”

        Because that’s what bus station toilets are for.

        1. That’s not what I use them for!

        2. Gobbler, we all know what your handle means.
          BTW, quit emailing me to shit in your mouth. That’s sugarfree’s thing

  11. Did this dude say he principally deals with BBSes? Man, what is it 1991? Well at least they still have the Arena and that intergalactic space trading game. Birthplace of the whaaaaambulance.

    1. TRADEWARS 2000!!!!

      I have a friend who is actually running a WWIV BBS with TW2k on it right now…ahh nostalgia.

  12. This explains much that was unexplained.

    1. Does not!

  13. The Bin Laden raid has shown Obama to be a vigorous and strong leader.

    1. He is irresponsible and reckless! It is possible he will raise taxes.

      1. Obama is a muslim and will institute Sharia law!

        1. It’s benn a long time since I rock n’ rolled!

          1. Threadwinner

            1. Quoting

              “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
              It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.”

              Would have been better.
              If only because it is at that point in the song that if you play it backwards you get all the satanic shit and a pretty good chicken recipe

              1. I see you are a big boy now and no longer Joshua. Don’t call me he, or I’ll send a nude shot 😉

  14. Krugman?

    1. Occam’s Razor.

  15. As for me i like the picture in this post very much.

  16. you go and blur the focus of web users


    Thin crust!

  17. So that’s why Thomas Friedman is so rich!

    1. That has always been my theory. But people tell me his wife is loaded. I honestly think he is on the payroll. No one is that stupid.

  18. Very much support this post.

  19. Errr…there’s a team at the U.S. State Dept that does that very thing. They’ve been featured in major media.

    1. […]they always identify themselves as being from the State Department.

      Nope, not our trolls.

  20. Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was in his work. Most of it was a tedious routine, but included in it there were also jobs so difficult and intricate that you could lose yourself in them as in the depths of a mathematical problem — delicate pieces of forgery in which you had nothing to guide you except your knowledge of the principles of Ingsoc and your estimate of what the Party wanted you to say. Winston was good at this kind of thing. On occasion he had even been entrusted with the rectification of The Times leading articles, which were written entirely in Newspeak.

  21. I FUCKING KNEW IT. They’re all over the NPR boards.

    1. And commentators for NPR? Many of them are suspiciously faithful to the Beijing line.

  22. I predict this thread will be awsome!

    1. It has all the makings for one but terrible timing.

      Monday Morning is the worse no matter how awesome the subject.

  23. People have known about the “50-cent Army” for years.

    The amusing aspect of this is that they all think they work for the Chinese government.

    But we, the commentariat at Hit & Run, we know who they’re really working for!

    These aren’t the kind of people who question the assignments they’re given, so when they suddenly start getting instructions to fill the internet with comments about monkeys on Tuesday or Sulu on Friday, they aren’t about to question why…

    Urkobold has thousands of unwitting minions, who think they’re working for the CCP? Just waiting on standby for instructions, ready to release his monkey/Sulu torrent on the internet at a moments notice?

    That’s old news.

  24. This demonstrates one reason why it is great for online debate to take place anonymously. While it is fundamentally necessary for participants to maintain consistent identity, for a site to insist that they participate under ‘real’ names is, I think, both pollyanaish and can actually be cast as being counter-productive to debate itself.

    Perhaps it would be interesting to put together a discussion forum where:

      a) a fixed identity is required to join
      b) demerits are assigned user-to-user
      c) random identities are generated per-topic

    So, one joins as person X, but for each topic, is temporarily assigned identity N, which remains consistent within, and only within, the context of that topic. Civil discourse is encouraged due to the fact that demerits directed at identity N are in fact accrued by person X. For purposes of debate itself though, identity plays no part, other than by the degree to which writing style or explicit self-identification may indicate the identity of a given participant within that topic.

    It is conceivable that because ego plays a role in personal interaction, such a system could tend to be quickly subverted by users, by means of adopting the practice of self-identifying in each and every posting. However, in the absence of that happening, it should not matter whether any given identity was posting insincerely, or in earnest; it would only be possible for other participants to reason in terms of the poster’s stated assertions.

    1. Too complicated. No fun except for obsessive something somethings.

    2. A friend runs a board that runs pretty much under the same lose rules as H&R with one significant difference, the URL address you post from is printed beside your name. That would catch functional retards who anonpussy though not those who use proxies.

  25. From the comics link, Reason brings you — chinese communist cultural revolution porn agitprop (talk about your “if you can think of it, there is porn of it” moment):

    My favorite line: “It is petty-bourgeoise individualism to engage in procreation
    without prior collective acknowledgement, comrades!”

    1. talk about your “if you can think of it, there is porn of it” moment

      Rule 34

      If it exists, there is porn of it.

  26. Where can I get copies of these delightful comics?

  27. I would spunk all over these!


  29. This story is pretty unbelievable. It looks like Ai Weiwei got punked.

    1. It’s not like that’s his real name. Clearly it’s a name you use for prank calls:

      Bart: Hi, I’m looking for Mr. Weiwei. First name, Ai.

      Moe: [to the barflies] Hey, there’s a guy on the phone who needs Ai Weiwei. Anybody here? Someone wanna check the bathroom for Ai Weiwei?

      1. That’s what I thought but it’s his real name. And his supporters have the “Ai Ai Weiwei” blog, where the first Ai and the second one are not the same. Though, looking at the way it’s written, that joke works in Chinese as well as Roman script. It’s at the top of

  30. From the headline, I thought the article was about TSA Bob.

  31. China Accuses Foreigners of Fomenting Unrest in the Country

    While China is busy fomenting unrest on the TUBES.

  32. For a small group of people in China who can earn a few cents by posting pro-government comments online – of course from the government. There is also a small group of people who can make tens a nd hundreds of thousands dollars by criticizing the Chinese government – from westerners. The poor 50-cents party.

    1. “There is also a small group of people who can make tens a nd hundreds of thousands dollars by criticizing the Chinese government – from westerners.”

      That’s so 2005.

      My grandfather grew up in Shanghai, and I’ve always wanted to see that, but I’d really like to see the traditional architecture in Pingyao.

      What part of China do you live in?

  33. That job looks like an awful lot of fun!

  34. HA!!!!

    Proof that communism does not work!!

    I get paid way more for my AstroTurfing.

    1. mmm … tentacles …

  35. Well, thanks for your information. But I think there are such groups in other countries,too…

  36. this article you write is quite interesting. the tactics described by this alleged troll sounds identical to the ones used by western intelligence, romas/coin, cubic, booz allen hanilton, team themis, hbgary, and cybercom. i;m really starting to think that western governments do stuff and then accuse their competitors of doing what westerners are doing themselves

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.