BEIJING - The flagship newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party has launched a course to train interested parties in the increasingly sophisticated skills of monitoring, collating and responding to opinions of netizens, Chinese media reported.
Graduates from the course would be accredited as experts in the job of Web opinion analyst which requires them to track the Internet for their clients, which might be the government or any company, reported the official Xinhua news agency.
The joint initiative by the People's Daily and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security conducted its first course last week, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television's website reported.
Students are charged 3,980 yuan (S$810) for the five-day course, plus 3,920 yuan for exams and accreditation, the South China Morning Post reported.
Although Mr Shan Xuegang, a deputy section head of the public opinion studies unit at the People's Daily Online, has vowed that the course is not to train a force to trawl the Internet and blot out opinions identified as "negative", many are sceptical.
Xinhua quoted Mr Shan as saying the job of a Web opinion analyst is to find out what are the "negative" opinions, how popular they are, and present strategies to mitigate their impact or show that they are unjustified.
But according to the Beijing News, Mr Shan also said the main job of such an analyst was to gather and assess online opinions for decision-makers at government agencies. When announcing the course last month, Mr Luo Hua, vice-president of People's Daily Online, indicated that the government is the keenest party in keeping track of online opinions.
"Without the help of trained professionals, the authorities might not be able to keep up with the pace of information flow over the Internet, not to mention make a timely response," said Beijing Foreign Studies University communications expert Qiao Mu.
According to the Post, as part of its efforts to control the Internet, the government employs thousands of people scattered across China to post comments online that are favourable to the party or reflect Beijing's position on issues.
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