TikTok’s tussle with the U.S. government has magnified the threat of Chinese influence-peddling operations. In response to those concerns, YouTube has stepped up its moderation efforts. During the first quarter of 2023, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) removed 6,285 YouTube channels with ties to China.
TAG Senior Director Shane Huntley outlined his unit’s Q1 activity via a quarterly bulletin. The 6,000 channels linked to China’s “coordinated influence operations” included a mix of culprits. “These channels and blogs mostly uploaded spammy content in Chinese about music, entertainment, and lifestyle,” Huntley wrote. “A very small subset uploaded content in Chinese and English about China and U.S. foreign affairs.”
The Q1 bulletin also cataloged TAG actions against channels affiliated with Russian and Central Asian campaigns. 1,088 channels were terminated for connections to Azerbaijan — offending content criticized Armenia and opponents of the Azerbaijani. TAG used similar criteria to eliminate 94 channels linked to Russia and 40 channels linked to Iran.
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The official TAG blog dates back to 2018 and catalogs nearly five years of activity from Google’s Trust and Safety team. Over that period, much of TAG’s attention has been focused on China. In 2020, the group nixed 2,600 channels in order to curb CCP-affiliated influence campaigns.
Thanks to the work of TAG, Google has been able to reduce the amount of misleading, partisan information on YouTube and other platforms. For that work to be as valuable as possible, these bans must stick. A recent report found that 50 documentaries published by Russia Today have continued to circulate on YouTube even though the state-sponsored media agency got hit with a ban shortly after war broke out in Ukraine.
Even if the bans fail to completely neutralize state-backed influence peddling operations, Google can still point to its Threat Analysis Group as one of its most significant countermeasures in the fight against extreme content. Both the European Union and United States government have urged big tech companies to be more vigilant when it comes to removing harmful posts. Google and its subsidiaries may not have perfect track records in that regard, but leaders in Mountain View can take solace in the fact that their American operations are not facing an existential threat.