YouTube has admitted to censoring comments critical of China’s communist government but has described it as an “error” and claims that it is looking into the issue.
Revelations that the company was conducting active censorship of certain words critical of China surfaced on Tuesday after Oculus Rift developer Palmer Luckey observed that YouTube had wiped every one of his comments about China’s internet propaganda division, known colloquially as “Wumao.”
“YouTube has deleted every comment I ever made about the Wumao (五毛), an internet propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party,” wrote Luckey on Twitter. “Who at Google decided to censor American comments on American videos hosted in America by an American platform that is already banned in China?”
“This appears to be a new global policy on YouTube, not directed at me specifically,” clarified the tech pioneer. “Try saying anything negative about the 五毛, or even mentioning them at all. Your comment will last about 30 seconds and get deleted without warning or notice, CCP-censor style.”
“To what end?” Luckey asked.
Luckey pointed out that the censorship had been ongoing for an undisclosed period of time without much if any fanfare at all ,until he pointed it out on social media.
“It will be interesting to see if this gets any mainstream media coverage over the coming days and weeks. Nothing so far,” he said.
Users affected by the censorship have expressed confusion at YouTube’s heavy-handed attempts to censor the Chinese terms.
On Twitter, many responding to Luckey were able to independently confirm his findings. Comments invoking the Chinese phrase (五毛) for the term “Wumao” disappeared in less than 30 seconds. The term means “50 Cent Party,” a derogatory term for Chinese internet users who are paid to post propaganda on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. YouTube also censors “共匪” which translates into “communist bandit.”
The Verge reached out to YouTube to inquire about the censorship, to which YouTube admitted that it was an error on the company’s end.
“This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” a YouTube spokesperson told the tech publication. YouTube refused to elaborate on how the error occurred, but stated it was not a result of its moderation policy.
The Verge found evidence that the censorship had been ongoing for at least six months, from as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on the company’s official help pages by multiple users. YouTube has not yet fixed the “error.”
YouTube may be currently banned in China, but the company has had an interest in the Chinese market. In 2018, the company created a prototype of a search engine called Project Dragonfly that was built to comply with Chinese state censorship. Details of its development were leaked to The Intercept, prompting politicians and Google’s own employees to criticize the tech giant.