The US think-tank Jamestown Foundation is reporting that China is employing an extensive network of more than 20 million “internet commentators” — trolls tasked with artificially amplifying content favorable to the Chinese government. According to the Jamestown report:
April 12, 2021 This article illuminates the shifting size and mission set of the forces behind China’s struggle to control online public opinion. It finds that, in addition to 2 million paid internet commentators, the CCP today draws on a network of more than 20 million part-time volunteers to engage in internet trolling, many of whom are university students and members of the Communist Youth League (CYL; 共产主义青年团, gongchan zhuyi qingnian tuan). It concludes that although internet commentators are primarily concerned with shaping China’s domestic information environment, they are growing in number, and the scope of the Party’s public opinion war (舆论战; yulun zhan) is broadening to include foreigners. […]
Although paid commentators tend to attract more attention from foreign analysts, the CCP’s network civilization volunteers form the backbone of its struggle to control public opinion inside and outside of China. The charters of network commentator teams at numerous universities specify that applicants should be CCP members, have high-quality writing ability, and acutely grasp the Party’s political theory and propaganda work. […] Despite their youthfulness, China’s teams of internet trolls are surprisingly militant in character and structure. The budget justification documents of CYLs, CACs, and Propaganda Departments routinely refer to internet commentators as a “young cyber army” (青年网军; qingnian wang jun) and describe them as a “reserve force” capable of “resolutely resisting false statements and rumors, and fighting online public opinion wars.”
Read the full report here.
The report further notes that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) likely employs at least 120 “network civilization volunteers” for every 10,000 Chinese internet users. Each commentator team follows unique guidelines, but volunteers are generally asked to post between 1–25 comments per month and are governed by a merit-based point system that determines whether they may be promoted or fired.
Recent Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) coverage of China’s online influence operations targeting the West has included:
- In April, we reported that China’s state propaganda apparatus is expanding its influence among foreign audiences through advertorial inserts in Western online media outlets.
- In April, we reported that China is using Western YouTubers to defend itself against accusations of human rights violations in Xinjiang.
- In March, an exclusive GIOR investigation exposed a Chinese influence operation flooding YouTube with hundreds of propaganda videos whitewashing China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and pushing the hashtag #StopXinjiangRumors.
- In March, we also reported that Chinese internet trolls started a social media campaign aimed at discrediting the BBC.