China is a nation of nearly 1.5 billion people – so putting 1,600 folks to any one task at a time might seem like a fairly insignificant number.
But the Epoch Times gives a sense of scale here by claiming that just one of China's provinces, Hubei – whose capital happens to be Wuhan, regarded as ground zero for the current coronavirus epidemic – engaged over 1,600 online censors to make sure the message getting out about the crisis and is aligned with Beijing's official version of events.
The outlet cites an internal document it says it has had access to, to report preparedness after China's president, Xi Jinping, gave his speech on February 10, apparently addressed at Hubei's first responders.
The document that the outlet says it has seen on February 15 shows that 1,600 members from “the 50-cent (or, troll) army in China” – have been engaged in “regulating internet speech continuously, 24/7.”
These are reportedly tasked with managing frustrations about the authorities' response, or documents about what is really happening on the ground.
The Epoch Times says that flying in the face of official numbers, the coronavirus-caused illnesses have been growing daily, as China is said to have trouble providing a sufficient number of testing kits and hospital beds.
Meanwhile – what about the output of the 1,600 trolls? The article says that they managed as many as 606,800 posts online.
The goal would be to censor speech online, as well as dispel online rumors – as well as “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 report said.
The regime's propaganda efforts, the report said, are directed toward promoting the effects of officials' outbreak control measures and the “moving deeds” of volunteers, community workers, and the police.
In addition to this, 400,000 comments, allegedly made in order to counter negative public opinion on this issue, happened to be posted over the same period of time.