Google has removed more than 50,000 YouTube channels linked to influence operations from China
This seems to be an important, but largely buried, element within Google TAG Bulletin Reportswhich give an overview of all ccoordinated influence operations that his team detected and stopped over time.
As we reported in May, at the time of Google’s Q1 TAG Bulletin, Google removed over 31,000 YouTube channels linked to China-based influence operations between July last year and March 2022, an amount enormous that far exceeded any other element.
And today, Google shared its Q2 Tag Bulletin, which along with its various efforts to combat Russian-backed disinformation efforts over the invasion of Ukraine, also details that it shut down 7,169 other channels. YouTube related to China in the past three months. .
By comparison, Google removed 231 YouTube channels, in total, in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.
As explained by Google:
“TThese channels mostly uploaded spammy content in Chinese about music, entertainment and lifestyle. A very small subset uploaded content in Chinese and English about China and US foreign affairs.
What is the explanation that Google has provided for all these removals, a modeled and somewhat vague summary of what is happening with these channels.
So what is going on, exactly?
There aren’t many details provided, but it seems that the main goal of these channels is to build an in-app audience first by posting engaging and light-hearted content that grabs viewers’ attention. Channels then use this reach to sprinkle in pro-China sentiment, in order to spread it to a wider audience.
This then allows the CCP, and/or related groups, to potentially influence public opinion through subtle means, gently nudging those viewers toward a more positive view of China’s activities.
And the scale of the operation is significant – in total, over the past year, Google has now detected and removed more than 50,000 YouTube channels (not individual videos, mind you, channels) linked to this effort.
That’s a lot, and if you look at the data, the program seems to have grown significantly this year, which probably suggests whoever’s behind sees YouTube as a powerful influencer.
The data further underscores the importance for social platforms to take proactive and definitive action to stop these schemes before they can gain traction, while also indicating how state actors seek to use the scale of social media to influence world opinion.
Which is also a concern linked to the rise of TikTok, with many security experts warning of the potential dangers of the Chinese-owned app gathering information and/or allowing pro-China narratives to proliferate.
Indeed, TikTok has come under scrutiny on several occasions for its perceived efforts to remove anti-Chinese content, and with recent analysis also showing that the app is becoming a key news and entertainment resource. information for young users, this may well become a bigger problem over time.
Add to that the fact that the Chinese government continues to clash with other world leaders, on various fronts, and there is clearly cause for concern.
And with pro-China groups also looking to infiltrate YouTube on this scale, it looks like some important trends are emerging in the broader stream of online news and information.
We’ve asked Google for more information on what exactly is happening with these YouTube removals, and will add to this story if/when we receive a response.
UPDATE: Google referred us to this twitter threadon a China-related group called DragonBridge, for more context on the deletions.