A woman looks at a Weibo advertisement inside a subway station in Beijing

China manufactures 488 million fake social media posts a year to divert citizens' attention from adverse or embarrassing news, according to researchers.

Gary King, a political scientist at Harvard University, has compiled the first study of its kind of the secretive Fifty Cent Group, a collective of government workers posing as ordinary citizens on the internet.

Contrary to previous thinking the report reveals the group's strategy is likely to distract Chinese citizens by changing the topic of conversation, rather than respond to adverse posts with counter arguments.

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Machine analysis of leaked databases and emails reveals the collective typically swings into action as social unrest or anti-establishment discontent gathers momentum.

Around half of the posts appear as posts and comments on government websites while the other half are inserted into the streams of commercial social media sites such as Baidu and Weibo.

"The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people," the report states.

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