Google announced yesterday that it had disabled 210 YouTube accounts for attempting to spread misinformation related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The protests, which kicked off in March, are in opposition to an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to extradite people in Hong Kong — which has a different governance system than the rest of China — to other countries that it does not have extradition agreements with.
“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” Shane Huntley, an exec within Google Security’s Threat Analysis Group, wrote in a blog post. “This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”
Huntley writes that YouTube discovered virtual private networks (VPNs) being used to disguise the origin of the accounts in question, which is a common tactic with respect to coordinated influence operations. The content on Twitter appeared to be state-backed, that platform surmised, with content that compared protesters to terrorists and portrayed them as violent extremists, according to The New York Times. Some of the social content also alleged that they were being funded by foreign interests.
In his post, Huntley said that YouTube had separately taken action to protect users in Kazakhstan after the government reportedly required citizens to install a certificate that would enable officials to decrypt and read anything a user typed or posted, including account information and passwords. That said, YouTube will continue to allow Chinese government-backed media outlets to post and advertise on its platform, the Times reports.
“Each month, our Threat Analysis Group sends more than 4,000 warnings to our users about attempts by government-backed attackers or other illicit actors to infiltrate their accounts,” Huntley notes.