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2000 Weibo Supervisors: What Is the Job Description? What Are the Rewards?

{Editor’s Note: Weibo (新浪微博) is a Chinese microblogging website that Sina Corporation launched on August 14, 2009. It is a major social media platform in China. China is notorious for Internet censorship. However, little information is available on how the people who work behind the scenes do their job. What is their job description? How is their performance evaluated? What are their rewards? The following article, translated from a report in the Chinese language Initium Media, sheds some light on Weibo Supervisors.} {1}

2000 Weibo Supervisors: What Is Their Job Description? What Are their Rewards?

On August 26, 2021, a Sina’s Weibo supervisor (user name @Shine Ji Haoyang, or Ji Haoyang) posted an article stating that he blocked the account of a Weibo user (user name @tomo Jiangjiang, or Jiangjiang) who claimed that her mother, a recipient of BIBP’s (Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co.) COVID-19 vaccine, had passed away due to the vaccination. Ji Haoyang accused the user (Jiangjiang) of fabricating stories to gain sympathy for illegal fraud, spreading (stories) about vaccine problems, and adversely affecting the country’s reputation. According to Ji, the police had detained the netizen Jiangjiang.

In the comment section, many netizens asked how Ji Haoyang learned of this matter. The latter replied: “Actually, we blocked her Weibo account. The police verified her mother’s physical condition, summoned and detained her, and then told us to suspend her account.” Ji added that Jiangjiang’s mother was still at work and had not passed away.

Ji also posted: “It was the authorities, not me, that blocked her account. As a Weibo supervisor, I have the right to report it. It is a felony to endanger the reputation of the country, and the Internet is not a place that is above the law.”

Soon afterward, Jiangjiang re-registered a new account, claiming that she had not been detained, and she posted her mother’s death certificate and cremation certificate. Later, Ji Haoyang issued an apology that he made unverified and improper remarks to Jiangjiang and anxiously filed the complaint only “to prevent the matter from festering and being covered by foreign media.” He said he “had provided the wrong mobile phone number, which led the police to summon the wrong person.”

After 12 o’clock the night of his apology, Ji Haoyang once again posted that he would go to the police to issue a written apology for making inappropriate remarks without verifying the user’s identity. “But the law will not allow you to slander our country under any casual pretext. Ask yourself whether there is any problem with the vaccine. Foreign media spreads stories as fast as domestic media. Tomorrow will be another day, and whoever is legally responsible will not be able to escape.”

The incident triggered a public opinion storm. Some netizens went through Ji Haoyang’s previous Weibo posts and found out that he was a college student with a wealthy family background. The “bureaucratic tone” revealed in his words turned off many people. Netizens referred to Weibo supervisors as “Red Guards” or “captive-bred little pinkos,” who use public power to spread rumors and threaten others on Weibo.

The incident also shed light on the little-heard-of “Weibo Supervisor.” Many users have also started to blacklist these supervisors and restrict them from viewing their own homepages. Angry netizens discovered that Weibo supervisors would not only receive a certain amount as a reward for reporting others’ posts, but they also carry the burden of meeting KPIs [key performance indicators] of at least 500 reports per month. Some netizens discovered that Ji made 486 reports in April this year, and suspected Ji of slandering innocent netizens in order to complete the quota.

So, what kind of job does a Weibo supervisor do? How are they assessed and rewarded? We have compiled short answers to related questions for the readers’ reference.

1. What Is a Weibo Supervisor? Why Was this Job Category Created?

According to public information, a Weibo supervisor, is a volunteer from Weibo users. The supervisor reports pornographic and illegal content as well as harmful information that is on the platform. Weibo will then review and handle the incident.

The original purpose of the mechanism was said to deal with the proliferation of pornographic information. Sina Weibo was established in 2009 and, as of June of this year, hosted 566 million monthly active users. It is one of the largest social media in China. In recent years, small porn video ads that frequented some popular comment sections had drawn criticism from many netizens.

Like all major social media platforms in China, Weibo has its own content review team. In an interview with the BBC, Liu Lipeng, a former Sina Weibo content reviewer, said, “We don’t have instruction manuals telling us which sensitive words should be deleted and which can be published. We often receive direct orders from above, telling us (for example) that because a certain political event has occurred, all related words must be deleted and blocked.”

“I worked as a content reviewer between 2011 and 2013. In the beginning, direct orders told me to delete or block ten plus posts a day. Later, dozens of sensitive words needed to disappear every day. After that, more and more words were blacklisted. We could receive over 200 orders a day.”

In addition to a professional team, Weibo has also set up a reporting channel for ordinary users. The reporting channel is located in the upper right corner of each post. Users can choose the type of complaint (such as harmful or pornographic information, hateful content, etc.). They will receive a notification from @Weibo admin: “Your complaint has been received and will be processed within 48 hours.”

The reporting facility of Weibo supervisors is more efficient than that of ordinary users. According to Time News, an online business media, Weibo supervisors form a large group.When they spot violations, everyone will share hyperlinks and pictures with the group. Managers in the group then pass along the tips, and someone will check out the reported posts and decide whether to block the accounts.

@fishginger, an influencer at Weibo, claimed that he launched the project in September 2017. He said that the establishment of Weibo supervisors has basically solved the issue of porn video ads in the comment sections. Compared with ordinary users whose effective rate of reporting is less than 10 percent, Weibo supervisors are more efficient in reporting pornographic, illegal, and harmful information with an effective rate as high as 99.9 percent on a monthly basis. {2}

After the Ji Haoyang incident received widespread attention, some netizens were very surprised by Ji’s original statement that, “Beijing’s Internet police asked us to cooperate in obtaining the user information.” They questioned whether Weibo supervisors have the power to block user accounts and can obtain the personal information of an ordinary user and hand it over to the police.

On the evening of August 27, 2021, the official account of the Weibo supervisors posted that the supervisors did not have the authority to block accounts and obtain information from others. It also stated that the account @tomo Jiangjiang was blocked not because of complaints from a supervisor.

This statement was widely questioned. At first, the official account responded that, “Those who have account handling issues can consult @Weibo customer service.” On August 29, two days after the statement was issued, the official reply was edited, stating that the @tomo Jiangjiang account was blocked because “this account previously posted harmful information related to current affairs and was handled by the platform in accordance with laws and regulations, not due to complaints by the supervisor.”

Regarding the questioning as to whether the supervisor can obtain the user’s mobile phone number and inform the police, Weibo initially stated that supervisors “do not have any authority to obtain other people’s information, and the police authorities will not extract personal information by contacting users.” However, in a later edited statement, Weibo claimed that Ji Haoyang himself acknowledged that he had provided the police with a false mobile phone number. In other words, Ji Haoyang, as a supervisor, went beyond the scope of his duties, called the police by himself, and provided contact information to the police.

2. What Has Changed in the Number and Job Description of Weibo Supervisors?

Under the direction of the Beijing Cyberspace Administration (BCA), Weibo formally established a supervisor mechanism on September 27, 2017, and announced a recruitment plan for 1,000 supervisors on the same day. As of September 13, 2018, the team had 2,000 members. Although Weibo announced in May of the following year that it would continue to expand to 4,000, the number has been capped at 2,000, according to its published data.

This is a “volunteer job” with a clearly defined workload and a monthly assessment requirement. Supervisors who continuously fail to achieve performance criteria may be disqualified. Therefore, the number of Weibo supervisors is not constant from month to month. According to its official data, as many as 711 supervisors were removed in March 2020.

In addition to reporting on pornographic, illegal, and harmful information, Weibo supervisors also need to participate in training sessions and cooperate with other Internet surveillance activities. Sometimes, they are invited to offline meetings and exchange activities. At the end of May 2019, Weibo invited 30 supervisors to the company headquarters for offline activities, where experts and government officials gave lectures.

On May 29, 2019, the scope of Weibo supervisors’ responsibilities expanded from pornographic and vulgar information to illegal information and harmful information related to current affairs. The public data does not show how much the supervisors have contributed to reporting harmful information on current affairs. However, this 2,000-person team effectively filed complaints about a total of 44.57 million posts of pornographic, vulgar, illegal, and harmful information in 2019, 99.82 percent being correct.

3. How to Become a Weibo Supervisor?

If you want to become a Weibo supervisor, you must be at least 18 years old. The Weibo account you use needs to be registered for more than one year and linked to your mobile phone number. The accumulated credit points must reach 120 points. You also need to take a proficiency test on the ability to identify messages that violate the rules. The test has a total of 20 questions. By designing specific scenarios, it tests the applicant’s judgment on the classification of the violation messages and the understanding of the Weibo supervisor system.

Of course, passing the ability test does not mean you can become a supervisor. According to the report “They Work as Supervisors on Weibo,” a Weibo supervisor told the reporter that after applying in 2018, he waited a year and a half before being officially approved.

4. How to Assess Supervisors? What Are the Rewards?

In the early days, the KPI of supervisors was that the number of effective complaints per month should not be less than 200, and the correct rate must be above 98%. A supervisor who meets the assessment criteria can receive a subsidy of 200 yuan (US$30.9) per month. In order to motivate supervisors, Weibo offers performance rewards the top 20 volunteers, including in-kind rewards such as new iPhones, iPads, and Single-lens reflex camera.

According to the information released by a supervisor in September 2018, as of August 26, 2018, one year after the position was created, Weibo has invested more than 1.87 million yuan (US$0.29 million) to reward the supervisors.

In October 2018, the performance rewards for top-ranked supervisors were changed from in-kind electronics to cash, and the top 30 can get rewards ranging from 800 yuan (US$123.7) to 6,000 yuan (US$927.9).

A netizen who became a Weibo supervisor in 2019 said in an interview with Time News that he initially spent more than two hours a day on Weibo to deal with pornographic messages and received a reward of up to 1,200 yuan (US$ 186). Another person who has been a Weibo supervisor for more than three years said that he only needs to be on Weibo for more than ten minutes a day to meet the KPI by keyword searches. Another interviewee said that in the early days, he created a plug-in on the platform to automatically search for pornographic messages through keywords and reported an average of 200,000 Weibo messages per month. In 2018, this interviewee received four iPhone 8s and two iPads.

The assessment criteria for supervisors are also constantly upgraded. This year, after the implementation of the revised rules, the number of complaints per month has been increased to 500, and the correct rate remains above 98%. At the same time, the scope of large cash awards was expanded to the top 100 supervisors. When the number of complaints reach the threshold, and the correct rate reaches 99%, these 100 people can get rewards ranging from 400 (US$62) to 5,000 yuan (US$77). The supervisors who rank below the top 100 and meet the assessment criteria will receive 200 yuan (US$31).

Weibo’s Definition of “Harmful Information on Current Affairs”

1. Opposing the basic principles established by the Constitution; 2. Endangering national unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; 3. Divulging state secrets, endangering national security, or harming national honor and interests; 4. Inciting ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination, undermining ethnic unity, or violating ethnic customs and habits; 5. Destroying national religious policies, promoting cults and superstition; 6. Spreading rumors, disrupting social order, and undermining social stability; 7. Distorting, vilifying, blaspheming, and denying the deeds and spirit of heroes and martyrs, insulting and slandering heroes and martyrs; 8. Propagating gambling, violence, murder, terror, or instigating crimes; 9. Inciting illegal assemblies, associations, processions, demonstrations, gathering crowds to disrupt social order; 10. Negative information breaking the bottom line of social morality and [socialist] institutions; 11. Content prohibited by laws, administrative regulations, and state regulations.

On August 27, 2021, Weibo released the punishment for Ji Haoyang for spreading rumors — dismissal, and a permanent ban of his speech. Netizens believe that the punishment is too light. It is just that “supervisors have a low cost of spreading rumors” compared to ordinary netizens who will be officially detained for 15 days for rumormongering.

Facing netizens’ questioning and anger towards Weibo supervisors, Weibo influencer @fishginger, who was formerly in charge of supervisor business, stated on August 30, 2021, “What the supervisors reported was originally pornographic gambling. Later, cults and insults of heroes and martyrs were added. It should have no effect on normal users… Society’s trend of using complaints to crack down on different opinions is indeed disgusting and criticized, but complaining about pornography and gambling is not the same thing, right? Supervisors don’t have to take the blame for someone else.”

On August 31, 2021, he once again commented on this viral incident and asked whether the certification mark on the supervisor’s homepage could be removed to protect the supervisor from attacks. On September 5, 2021, Initium Media found that the certification mark of the supervisor had been changed from “Weibo Supervisor” to “Weibo Community Volunteer.” {3}

Currently, Weibo is conducting another round of recruitment of supervisors.

{1} 2000 Weibo supervisors: what is the job description? What are the rewards? Initium Media, September 8, 2021.
{2} Effective Rate means of the ratio of reporting that are processed.
{3} Initium Media is a Singapore-based digital media outlet that covers current affairs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.