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YouTube Disappears Comments Critical of Chinese Propaganda Program [UPDATED]

YouTube Space LA offices in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)

[See update below.]

The Chinese Communist Party is really amazingly thin-skinned. (I realize this is not news to anyone.) The Party provides immense amounts of propaganda to the outside world.

It has been egregious enough that Foreign Policy noticed:

“On Twitter, Chinese diplomats have been promoting a conspiracy theory that the U.S. Army brought COVID-19 to China.”

China’s use of foreign social media was blatant enough that Twitter was acting against information-warfare accounts by August of last year:

This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests.

One specific information operation is the 五毛党 or “Fifty Cent Party,” a slang term for paid commenters. Today, Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, among other things, observed:

Any mention of the 五毛党 in Chinese in a YouTube comment was almost instantly boojumed.

Comments About Chinese Propaganda Operation Suddenly Vanish

This seemed so blatant that I wasn’t sure I believed it. So I tried it:

YouTube, Censorship, China

The comment posted:

YouTube, Censorship, China

Sure enough, minutes later it was gone:

YouTube Censors Chinese Propaganda name

I tried just “wumao” instead of “wumaodang”, and sure enough:

YouTube Censors Chinese Propaganda name

Were they simply deleting anything in Chinese? Apparently not:

YouTube Censorship not applied to other Chinese phrases

YouTube Censorship of a Chinese Phrase?

So here’s a puzzle: YouTube is a U.S. company and isn’t even accessible inside the People’s Republic. What makes naming a Chinese propaganda operation so sensitive?

I asked YouTube:

Palmer Luckey has observed that the phrase 五毛 in YouTube comments results in the comment being instantly deleted. I tried it as an experiment and observed that both 五毛 and 五毛党 on completely unrelated videos cause comments to be deleted almost instantly.
The phrase is slang for “paid commenter”.
Can YouTube comment on why this phrase is being censored?

No answer so far.

UPDATE: Google got back to me. A YouTube spokesperson gave me the following statement:  “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating. Users can report suspected issues to troubleshoot errors and help us make product improvements.”

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