Google announced Wednesday that it had banned nearly 2,600 Chinese channels from YouTube during the second quarter as part of investigations into “coordinated influence operations” on the platform.
About half of the channels were removed in June, according to a report by Google’s Threat Analysis Group, which fights government-backed hacking and attacks. Most of the channels only posted spam and non-political content, Google said, but some of them posted content about the racial justice protests in the United States that were spurred on by the murder by George Floyd’s Minneapolis Police Department. The content was mainly published in Chinese.
Google said YouTube, which is owned by the search giant, has also taken down dozens of channels linked to Russia and Iran that have apparent links to influencing campaigns.
The report comes months before the US presidential election, as tech companies ramp up their security operations in an attempt to avoid the pitfalls they faced in 2016. The election was marred by Russian interference, who exploited the platforms of Google, Facebook and Twitter to try to influence the outcome of the competition.
The channel cuts also come as U.S.-China tech relations grow increasingly strained. US President Donald Trump last week called for a ban on TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, over fear of Chinese espionage. Trump also said he was open to a sale of TikTok to a U.S. company, with Microsoft becoming a serious bidder.
Google and YouTube have had their share of entanglements with China. YouTube drew criticism in May after its software removed critical comments from the Chinese Communist Party from its video platform. The comments were deleted in error, the company said, due to an error in its content removal systems that violates YouTube policies.
Google received a boost two years ago for Project Dragonfly, an initiative to bring a censored search product to China. This effort would have the effect of blacklisting search terms frowned upon by the Chinese government, such as “student protest” and “Nobel Prize”. It may also have linked the searches to people’s phone numbers. Google employees and human rights activists protested when news of Dragonfly broke.
Google has also been criticized for itslaboratory in Beijing, which opened in 2017. Last year, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US military, said the research giant’s work in the country “indirectly benefited the Chinese army ”. Sundar Pichai, CEO of parent company Google Alphabet, ended up meeting with Dunford and Trump that month to discuss Google’s relationship with China.