Since the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in the US, Alphabet’s YouTube has been repeatedly criticized for deleting popular videos questioning the wisdom of “lockdowns”, Dr. Fauci or other “science-backed” conventional wisdom – or simply using the outbreak as an excuse to censor more conservative content, something that has been a priority for YouTube since long before this all started.
YouTube, like Facebook and Twitter, insists it doesn’t delete conservative content, though a handful of Congressional hearings have been held to investigate these allegations, and President Trump is reportedly looking into the creation of a panel to combat censorship of conservatives on these popular platforms.
But while YouTube’s political motivation to target conservatives is fairly obvious – a large cross-section of the contemporary American left is staunchly pro-censorship when it comes to ideas they don’t agree with or believe to be “offensive” – the company’s motives in this latest scandal hint at a more sinister political agenda for Alphabet and its peers.
A journalist and human-rights advocate has discovered that YouTube is apparently censoring two Chinese-language phrases that are extremely offensive to the Communist Party.
#YouTube "automatically" deletes a comment in Chinese, "Gongfei", which means "communist bandit", in 15 seconds.
This person tested 3 times, same result. #油管 15秒內自動刪除「共匪」留言，網友連試三次皆如此。
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) May 13, 2020
Moved to investigate the suspicious mass-deletions, the Verge discovered that YouTube has indeed added these phrases to a spam filter that automatically deletes user comments containing the phrases, even if they’re used in a positive and politically irrelevant context.
As the Verge points out, the company’s reasons for censoring these phrases is “puzzling,” considering that YouTube is blocked in China (along with all other Google services).
It’s not clear why these phrases are being deleted, but it seems that they’ve been added to comment filters meant to automatically remove spam or offensive text. This is suggested by the fact that the comments are removed quickly (human moderation takes longer) and that they are removed even if the banned phrases are used positively (e.g., “The ?? are doing a fantastic job”).
Making the matter more puzzling is that YouTube is currently blocked in China, giving its parent company, Google, even less reason to censor comments critical of the CCP or apply moderation systems in accordance with Chinese censorship laws. We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this story when we hear more.
Even if there is a legitimate reason to be suspicious of comments containing these phrases, why would YT feel the need to remove them automatically, without even allowing an opportunity for human review?
The Verge said it has reached out to YouTube for comment. But as the publication also points out, Google has been “frequently criticized” for seeming to kowtow to the wishes of the CCP as the company’s leadership quietly negotiate the company’s return to China over the explicit objections of the company’s employees, and in contravention of the principles that prompted Google to pull out of China a decade ago.
Just remember this next time you see some Silicon Valley bigwig opining about the importance of the bilateral relationship with China, and Trump’s “politically motivated” persecution of China.