Revealing the Operations of China’s Official Troll Army System

April 15, 2020 Updated: April 16, 2020

The Chinese regime employs online trolls to push its agenda on the internet. They are commonly referred to as the “50-cent army,” so named because they are paid 50 cents for each online post that praises the Communist Party’s policies, or insults those who express opinions that stray from the Party line.

They are typically ordinary citizens hired by internet companies or the regime’s censorship and propaganda departments.

But in confidential government documents obtained by The Epoch Times, the Party’s security apparatus, known as the Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), is revealed to be a major player as well.

The PLAC is a central government agency that oversees the country’s police, courts, and prisons. It has branches in each province, city, and township.

Epoch Times Photo
Screenshot of the leaked document “Fangzheng County Trolls’ Work Summary (Year 2019)” in April 2020. (Provided to The Epoch Times by insider)

Trolls’ Organization

The documents were from the Fangzheng county PLAC, released to different teams of trolls under its supervision. Fangzheng is a county in the city of Harbin, located in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province.

The PLAC oversees a “professional army,” a “local army,’ and “internet commentators.”

The “professional army” are those working in government agencies. The “local army” are government staff in charge of residential areas and villages, as well as those working in state-run companies.The “internet commentators” are the 50-cent trolls hired from society.

Some trolls recently revealed that they are now typically paid 70 cents ($0.10) per post.

One of the documents explained the different armies’ objectives, which was to ensure internet speech aligned with the Chinese Communist Party.

“[All armies] must make sure to cooperate with each other well… have meetings regularly to discuss the hot internet topics and direct public opinion. Each member must have his or her goal…and complete their missions.”

Another document listed local members of troll armies and their leaders.

For example, the Fangzheng county public security bureau, akin to the police department, has 31 people working in the department in charge of trolls. Sun Naichen, head of the bureau’s political division, is the director. Li Xuedong, deputy director of the political division, is the deputy director. Other members are staff at the county public security bureau as well as the smaller police stations within the county.

The local prosecutor’s office, court, and justice ministry also have their own troll teams, according to the documents. Their teams are relatively small, with four or five members.

Another document listed the trolls in the “local army,” with 336 individuals’ names, cell phone numbers, as well as the state-run company or government agency they work for.

The documents did not provide details about the people hired from society. Chinese independent economist and dissident Charles posted on his Twitter on April 5 a copy of an internal document that detailed the latest recruitment plans for the 50-cent army. The Epoch Times could not independently verify the authenticity of the document.

According to the post, the Chinese regime’s goal is to hire 4 million trolls from universities and colleges, and another 6.23 million from society at large. There is a quota for each region of the country. For example, Beijing would hire 140,000 trolls from colleges, and 110,000 from society. Shandong province would hire 280,000 students and 500,000 others.

Epoch Times Photo
The Fangzheng County Political and Legal Affairs Commission has a trolls‘ training in Fangzheng in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, China in 2020. (Provided to The Epoch Times by insider)

Trolls’ Operations

Another document summarized how trolls within government agencies should operate.

The trolls receive training and have regular performance evaluations.

The trolls undergo an online training and testing system, each team monitored by a manager.

Every month, the county PLAC asks the managers to award or fine members according to their performances. The incentives include cash rewards and verbal praise.

The document asked all trolls to “use typical netizen lingo to express the official Party opinion” and guide public opinion on news websites, blogs, BBS [online forums], Weibo, WeChat, and other social media platforms, and so on.

In their posts, trolls should “use words that are realistic, easy to accept by people, and fitting to everyday life,” the document said.

Because different news topics appear every day, the document said trolls should update their knowledge in a timely manner and lead online discussions with normal netizens.

Epoch Times Photo
Screenshot of the leaked document “Fangzheng County Trolls’ Operation Guidelines” in April 2020. (Provided to The Epoch Times by insider)

PLAC

As early as 1996, Qiu He, then deputy mayor of Suqian city in eastern China’s Jiangsu province organized government staff to post propaganda articles online. This was the first time that the Chinese regime tried to sway opinion on the internet.

Qiu was later dismissed from the Party for corruption crimes in 2015 and sentenced to 14 years in prison in December 2016.

Since 2004, more information has been revealed about the Chinese regime’s troll operations.

On Dec. 29, 2017, state-run media Xinhua reported that the PLAC-operated news site Zhengyi Net hosted a meeting in Beijing and discussed “achievements” by trolls in the past nine years.

On May 24, 2018, Chen Yixin, secretary-general of the PLAC, organized a seminar in Beijing, in which he emphasized that trolls must keep the “right political direction.”

China’s chief censorship agency, the Cyberspace Administration, also hires trolls to monitor internet posts, delete sensitive information, and post content favorable to the Chinese regime.

Liu, a “post deletion officer” working for a popular internet platform in China, told online magazine Bitter Winter on April 10 that his job was deleting “posts mostly containing remarks criticizing and opposing the government.”

At the internet platform, over 200 people were hired to do the same job, Liu said. The platform also hires individuals to delete articles, audio content, and pictures.

With the help of an automated filter, Liu said he can delete about 100,000 posts per day, which is his daily quota.