Saturday, December 19, 2020

Leaked Documents Show How China’s Army of Paid Internet Trolls Helped Censor the Coronavirus

 
As the coronavirus spread in China, the government stage-managed what appeared on the domestic internet to make the virus look less severe and the authorities more capable, according to thousands of leaked directives and other files. Image:  Adam Maida, special to ProPublica

Raymond Zhong, Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, The New York Times,
and Jeff Kao, ProPublica

In the early hours of Feb. 7, China’s powerful internet censors experienced an unfamiliar and deeply unsettling sensation. They felt they were losing control.

The news was spreading quickly that Li Wenliang, a doctor who had warned about a strange new viral outbreak only to be threatened by the police and accused of peddling rumors, had died of COVID-19. Grief and fury coursed through social media. To people at home and abroad, Li’s death showed the terrible cost of the Chinese government’s instinct to suppress inconvenient information.

Yet China’s censors decided to double down. Warning of the “unprecedented challenge” Li’s passing had posed and the “butterfly effect” it may have set off, officials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets.  Read more >>