Users have figured that YouTube is automatically deleting comments containing certain phrases of the Chinese language that indicate they are critical of the Communist Party of China (CCP) even as the world struggles to fight coronavirus that originated by design or accident from the country. If a comment contains the words “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”), it will hardly stay on YouTube for long, users have found.
Finding that these comments are disappearing in about 15 seconds, the users have also figured that the translation in the English language and transliteration in Romanised Pinyin remain untouched.
The term “共匪” is a slur that had gained currency in the era of China’s nationalist government. “五毛,” (pronounced “wu mao”) is a colloquial pejorative for internet trolls. Sirf News had published a report on 18 April, explaining that Blocked on Weibo, a book by Jason Q Ng on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, had then revealed Beijing had banned the use of the phrase “50 cents” on finding that the term referred to its “50 Cent Party”, which was a newly formed group of Chinese people their government had hired to post comments on the worldwide web. Its job was to spin everyday news in favour of China.
They got this name as they were paid 50 cents (¥ 5) per post. The Chinese government never denied the existence of this group that continues to operate strategically in places where sending the right message is crucial. To share the load on the Chinese exchequer, some websites and internet providers hire the ‘star performers’.
A web-based platform like YouTube can add filters to automatically remove ‘spam’ or ‘offensive’ text, which the administrators of the medium programme into the site. “Human moderation would take longer, indicating that the process is mechanical,” said an ethical hacker based in Delhi.
“Another proof that YouTube is doing it with a program is the fact that these phrases are disappearing even when they are used positively. Write, for example, ‘The 五毛 are doing a fantastic job’ and still your comment will vanish within 15 s,” the ethical hacker said.
Tech writer Dan Kallis said, “It is puzzling because China does not permit YouTube to operate in its territory. Why is the parent company Google bending over backwards to please Beijing by censoring comments critical of the CCP?”
US technologist and former Oculus founder Palmer Luckey dug out the phenomenon of automatic deletion of these phrases by YouTube today on Twitter. But there have been reports a few days ago when human rights activist Jennifer Zeng spotted the funny activity.
Then, there are complaints on the official help pages of YouTube that say such comments had been deleted October 2019 onwards.
Internet users often critique Google for pandering to the CCP with censorship. Indeed, it supports Islamism too. Sirf News has been debarred from uploading new videos on YouTube since the day it posted a video showing a large crowd of Muslims wantonly breaching social distancing norms by offering namaz together at a neighbourhood of Delhi, India.
YouTube has a prototype search engine known as Project Dragonfly that conforms to censorship by China. Industry observers say Google has been trying to humour the Xi Jinping regime to sink its teeth in the large market of tech consumers that the Chinese people are.
Media had reported Dragonfly in 2018. Back then, its own employees slammed Google for the “sell-out” of its principles. In its defence, Google said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June 2019, it had “terminated” the project and had “no plans to launch search in China.”