Google has broadcasted its latest TAG Bulletin report, which delivers
a summary of all of the collaborative influence operations that its team caught and shut down across its apps in Q1 2022.
And for the most part, it looks pretty specific- 3 YouTube channels shut down in regard to actions to criticize Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, an AdSense account linked to influence processes in Turkey, 42 YouTube channels and 2 Ads accounts removed as part of an inquiry into blended influence operations related to Iraq.
“We removed 4361 YouTube channels as part of our ongoing inquiry into coordinated influence processes related to China. These channels especially uploaded spammy content in Chinese about music, entertainment, and lifestyle. A very little subset uploaded content in Chinese and English around China and U.S. foreign affairs. These findings are consistent with our previous reports.”
That seems like a lot right? 4300 YouTube channels – not just personal videos – in a month, is a lot of content.
But as YouTube notes, that’s really in line with earlier TAG reports.
Going back over its most current TAG updates, Google removed:
- 5,460 YouTube channels in December, also related to coordinated influence operations connected to China
- 15,368 Chinese YouTube channels in November
- 3,311 YouTube channels in October
- 1,217 in September
- 1,196 in August
- 850 in July
All of these are related to the same inquiry into coordinated influence operations related to China, and all of them have the same report like the one above, relating to “spammy content” around entertainment, with some notes on US/China affairs. That’s over 31,000 YouTube channels removed over the last seven months.
So what’s going on? What, strictly, are these Chinese influence operations looking to complete, and are they gaining any traction through this broad-reaching YouTube push?
It appears, based on Google’s description, that the main objective of this action is to first make an audience in the app with attractive, light content, before then using that reach to spread in some pro-China sentiment, in order to seed it among more general audiences.
That then allows the CCP, and/or related groups, to potentially sway public opinion via subtle means, by gently pressing these viewers towards a more positive view of China’s activities.
That’s typically been China’s MO with its data operations – on Q and A platform Quora, for example, there are many examples of people asking questions about China, only to see glowingly favorable replies from users.
It seems that’s the modus operandi here too, with Chinese-originated companies aiming to build audiences on YouTube to then establish distribution and dissemination chains for pro-China propaganda.
But it’s clearly a significant push, and it’s impressive to note just how much China is ramping up its movement over time. That likely suggests that it visits YouTube as a powerful vector for influence, which also underlines the importance of social media taking proactive, definitive steps to stop such programs before they can gain traction.