YouTube automatically deleted comments criticizing the Chinese government because its enforcement systems were not looking at the remarks with the proper context, the platform tells Tubefilter.
“Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our enforcement systems and have rolled out a fix,” YouTube says.
The deletions were pointed out in a new report from The Verge, which noted that users had begun flagging the removals in YouTube’s community forums back in October 2019. Scrubbed comments contained “共匪” and/or “五毛,” both derogatory terms for people affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party—the ruling political entity of China. English-language translations and Romanized Chinese versions of these terms were reportedly not deleted.
#YouTube “automatically” deletes a comment in Chinese, “Gongfei”, which means “communist bandit”, in 15 seconds.
This person tested 3 times, same result. #油管 15秒內自動刪除「共匪」留言，網友連試三次皆如此。
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) May 13, 2020
Some users theorized that these two terms were marked for autodeletion because Chinese government affiliates had made an organized effort to mass-flag them as violative of the platform’s Community Guidelines. YouTube wouldn’t tell us exactly why the phrases were added to its comment enforcement systems, but did say bulk flagging wasn’t a factor.
It’s possible, given YouTube’s explanation about context, that its systems simply broadly categorized the terms as slurs or policy-violating harassment without taking into account their historical circumstances.
YouTube also clarifies that the comment removals were not done because of internal policies, and reminds us that it’s been relying more on machine-learning systems–such as its comment enforcer–in recent months because of COVID-19. (However, that wasn’t the case back in October, so this error was occurring before the pandemic.)
“We’re always working to resolve issues on YouTube,” the platform adds.