YouTube bans almost 2,600 Chinese channels for influence operations

Some of the channels posted content about racial justice protests in the US.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google's YouTube took down thousands of channels from China.


Google on Wednesday said it banned almost 2,600 Chinese channels from YouTube during the second quarter as part of investigations into "coordinated influence operations" on the platform.

Roughly half of the channels were taken down in June, according to a report by Google's Threat Analysis Group, which combats government-backed hacking and attacks. Most of the channels posted only spam and nonpolitical content, Google said, but some of them posted about the racial justice protests in the US spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The content was primarily posted in Chinese.

Google said YouTube, which the search giant owns, also took down dozens of channels linked to Russia and Iran that had apparent ties to influence campaigns. 

The report comes months before the US presidential election, as tech companies beef up their security operations to try to avoid the pitfalls they encountered in 2016. That election was marred by interference by Russia, which exploited platforms from Google, Facebook and Twitter to try to influence the outcome of the contest. 

The channel takedowns also come as relations between the US and China over technology become increasingly tense. US President Donald Trump last week called for a ban of TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, over fears of spying by China. Trump has also said he's open to a sale of TikTok to a US company, with Microsoft emerging as a serious bidder. 

Google and YouTube have had their share of entanglements with China. YouTube drew criticism in May after its software deleted comments critical of the Chinese Communist party from its video platform. The comments were removed by mistake, the company said, because of an error in its systems for taking down content that violates YouTube's rules.

Google received blowback two years ago for Project Dragonfly, an initiative to bring a censored search product to China. The effort would reportedly blacklist search terms disapproved of by the Chinese government, such as "student protest" and "Nobel Prize." It also may've tied searches to people's phone numbers. Google employees and human rights advocates protested when news of Dragonfly broke. 

Google has also been criticized for its artificial intelligence lab in Beijing, which opened in 2017. Last year, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the search giant's work in the country is "indirectly benefiting the Chinese military." Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google parent Alphabet, ended up meeting with both Dunford and Trump that month to discuss Google's relationship with China.