Chinese Regime Deploys 1,600 Online Trolls To Suppress Information On Coronavirus

1,600 Chinese Trolls Deployed

The internal report, dated Feb. 15, detailed the agency’s efforts to ramp up censorship measures. It was drafted after a speech given by Chinese leader Xi Jinping via video link on Feb. 10 to “frontline responders” of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, where the virus first broke out.

The revelations come as the Chinese regime tightens information controls over the worsening outbreak, as netizens have increasingly turned to the internet to vent their frustrations about the authorities’ response, or document what is happening on the ground.

The illness has seen a steadily growing official list of infections and deaths on a daily basis. Experts and commentators, however, believe the actual number of infections to be far greater, due to underreporting and shortages in testing kits and hospital beds—meaning many people are left undiagnosed.

1,600 Trolls Deployed

According to the document, the department has hired more than 1,600 trolls, known as the 50-cent army in China, to regulate internet speech continuously, 24/7.

The trolls, through technological and manual screening, had identified as many as 606,800 posts online with “sensitive or harmful information,” it said.

Their approach, it said, was to “timely dispel the online rumors” and “strike powerful blows offline.”

As of Feb. 14, the online censors had deleted as many as 54,000 such “rumors,” and had social media influencers write nearly 400 commentary articles to shape the narrative.

The regime’s propaganda efforts, the report said, should be directed toward promoting the effects of officials’ outbreak control measures and the “moving deeds” of volunteers, community workers, and the police.

Some professional “internet commentators” had also made 400,000 comments to “counter the negative public opinions,” according to the document.

Posts mourning whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who died of the virus he was warning about in December, quickly disappeared from the internet in the hours after the news of his passing was first announced. “I want free speech,” a phrase that became trending on Chinese social media following his death, was also swiftly erased.

Wuhan citizen journalists Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi also recently disappeared after posting regular videos online highlighting the severity of the outbreak.

As of Feb. 11, over 2,500 people had signed a joint online petition expressing anger over Li’s death and criticizing the government for suppressing free speech during the outbreak. Several co-signees were subsequently summoned by local police. At least one was detained.

The department has also set up 11 work groups for the purpose of “wartime propaganda” work. The groups were communicating daily with propaganda officials from the central government to “coordinate public opinion” in real time on issues “online and offline,” “inside the country and overseas,” it stated.