In China's Southern Guangdong province, the local government honored the Guangdong Baiyun University for its ‘excellent work’ in monitoring activities and opinions of students online, according to the Nandu Daily [zh].
Nicknamed the “online red army” and led by nine teachers and six students, Guangdong Baiyun University's own “Student Internet and Social Media Information Monitoring” team was built in 2010 to watch student conversations and control negative sentiment online. Their daily work involves monitoring online chat rooms, following microblogging and tracking online forums. Hired students work 1.5 hours everyday and get paid RMB 200 ($32) per month.
The news immediately triggered online outrage; many think the university has violated student privacy and demand an immediate stop to the system. However, many comments were deleted on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo and the “Online Red Army” soon became a censored word. On March 20, Sina news published this commentary[zh]:
In accordance with the law, universities don’t have the right to monitor students’ (citizens’) online information. No matter what the excuse they might have, this is against the law. Student have the right to sue the university. However, what’s pitiful and worrisome is that, not only can Baiyun University get away with this behaviour, but the “Baiyun Red Army – the online monitoring system” was selected as a successful example of “College Student Affairs Management Project” and praised and promoted by the Guangdong College Students Affairs Committee.
Lawyer Song Jian commented[zh] on Sina Weibo[zh]:
Thought-control is against human nature. All colleges trying to make students spiritual slaves are garbage.
“止于至善_风飘絮” a college student from Guangdong requested Bai Yu University to provide the legal foundation and funding for this system:
权利的侵蚀无所不在，言论自由是每个人都要随时随地寸土必争绝不退让的——龙应台。请公开 –军—-红—–络—–网—–的 法律依据 以及经费等！
[A quote from Taiwanese writer]Long Yingtai: Rights are being eroded everywhere. Freedom of speech is something everyone should fight for and never sacrifice anytime or anywhere. Please make the online red amy's legal foundation and funding public.
Referring to Das Leben der Anderen, a German film about the monitoring of East Berlin in 1984 by agents of the secret police the Stasi, online personality “薛蛮子” wrote [zh], Is “1984” found in Baiyun college?
The scary “Online Red Army” monitors students’ microblogging, online forum and QQ group. What is Baiyun University's management worried about? Who will protect the privacy of the students? Behind the monitor system, would they punish the students who complain? When students with firm political stand are hired to watch their own classmates, how far are we from Das Leben der Anderen?
In response to the online outrage, Baiyu University republished[zh] an article from the Legal Daily on March 20, titled “To Clean the Internet, We Need Online Red Army”. It concludes:
Baiyun College’s “online red army” has made outstanding contribution to the construction of socialist spiritual civilization. Shouldn’t other schools, factories and organizations learn from them?
Looks like the red army will be sticking around for a while.