YouTube is reportedly doing China’s dirty work for them. The Verge found recent instances, as well as some going back to October 2019, of the platform removing comments containing disparaging terms for the Chinese Communist Party and its supporters within 15 seconds. In statements to The Verge and Bloomberg, YouTube claims the comment removal is an “error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating.”
The terms of censorship — The swift removal of comments containing “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”) were first brought to light earlier this month by human rights activist and YouTuber Jennifer Zeng.
Less than a week before this discovery, Zeng’s channel was demonetized over a video investigating the origins of COVID-19. It’s worth noting that while much of Zeng’s work has exposed atrocities within China, she’s also worked for The Epoch Times — which isn’t known for its unflapping veracity — and its sibling arm New Tang Dynasty Television. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey also drew attention to the overzealous moderation on Tuesday.
Nothing new for Google — YouTube rarely (notice this is not “never”) terminates channels based on requests from China’s government. Additionally, a Twitter user responding to Luckey claims entire chat replays are deleted if someone uses the derogatory terms. Most famously, Google was caught developing a search engine for China by The Intercept back in 2018.
While the platform has shifted towards AI moderation during the pandemic, The Verge found evidence of comment censorship going back to last fall. Combined with Google’s thirsty history of trying to get into China, none of this feels like an error.