January 12, 2012: A growing trend in dictatorships is the use of paid demonstrators to get out there and put on a pro-government show for the foreign media. In some countries, a paid demonstrator can make a month's wages for a few days' work demonstrating in favor of the local dictator. Such paid mobs are particularly common in Central Asia but are also found in the Arab world, Africa, and the Middle East.
It has long been the custom for politicians to call their followers out onto the streets to demonstrate support. Actually, this goes back at least as far as ancient Rome, where election campaigns during the Roman Republic were often accompanied by partisan demonstrations for one candidate or another. What has changed today is the need for many specialists within the demonstrators' ranks. That has led to the need to pay cash to the demonstrators, especially those carrying out the most difficult, or dangerous, tasks. For example, those who handle the more difficult tasks, like getting the attention of foreign journalists and giving convincing pro-dictator interviews, are paid more. So are the leaders of the demonstrators and other specialists who would take the lead in picking verbal or physical fights with anti-government demonstrators.
Although foreign journalists often know what these rented demonstrators are up to, the rent-a-mobs often deceive the foreigners, or at least muddy the media picture of what's going on.