YouTube says it was a system “error” that caused the platform’s moderation system to delete comments critical of China’s Communist Party and not the work of a heavy-handed YouTube censor.
The Verge reports that YouTube users began flagging the disappearance of YouTube comments containing the Chinese characters for the words “communist bandit” and “50-cent party,” both of which are phrases typically deployed against the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP.
“The former phrase is an insult dating back to China’s Nationalist government,” the Verge says, “while the latter is derogatory slang for internet users paid to defend the CCP from criticism online. It originates from the claim that these users are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.”
Users said the platform deleted the objectionable comments “in a matter of seconds.”
The problem began in October, but YouTube addressed the issue on Tuesday, blaming the problem on an overzealous “enforcement system” and apologized for the error.
YouTube told The Verge “that the issue that caused comments containing these phrases to be deleted had been fixed for a number of these terms, but that it was still investigating the deeper causes of the error.” A quick test of the moderation system reveals that the phrases are no longer subject to censorship.
Technology watchdogs, though, say YouTube’s excuse does not make sense.
“A spokesperson told The Verge only that the deletions were not the result of any change to YouTube’s moderation policy, and that the company has been relying on its automated systems more than ever recently as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, implying that the automatic deletions are connected.”
“We’re always working to resolve issues on YouTube,” a YouTube spokesperson added to CNBC. “Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our enforcement systems.”
But, the tech news outlet points out, an overzealous automatic moderator only partially explains the censorship, and given that the deletions began in October, not March, it’s difficult to blame the problem on coronavirus.
It’s also strange that comments critical of the Chinese government would fall under censorship outside of China’s borders, particularly given that YouTube is blocked in China. Chinese users have a proprietary Chinese version of YouTube, just as they have a version of Twitter, Google, and Amazon. Google was, at one point, building a censored search engine for China, “Project Dragonfly,” but scrapped the program after it became public and Google employees objected.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz was quick to target YouTube’s parent company, Google, over the incident, and suggested that a Federal investigation may be warranted.
“Why is Google/YouTube censoring Americans on behalf of the CCP? This is WRONG,” Cruz tweeted on Tuesday. “Big Tech is drunk with power. The Sherman Act prohibits abusing monopoly power. DOJ (Department of Justice) needs to stop this NOW.”
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