This consistently seems alarming to me, yet also seems to go largely under the radar.
Today, Google has published its latest TAG Bulletin report, which provides an overview of all of the coordinated influence operations that its team detected and shut down across its apps in Q3 2022.
And most of the data is largely as we’ve come to expect:
- 69 total YouTube channels linked to Russian-backed influence campaigns
- 15 YouTube channels traced back to Sudanese-based influence operations
- 5 YouTube channels originating from Myanmar
These types of reports and numbers are pretty normal, with the usual locations of such groups and programs.
But then there’s this:
- 10,221 YouTube channels terminated in the period as part of an ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to China
That’s a pretty big jump in cases from a single region – 10,000 YouTube channels removed, which builds on the more than 30k YouTube channels that YouTube has removed over the past year as part of the same push against Chinese influence campaigns.
So what’s going on here?
As explained by Google:
“These channels mostly uploaded spammy content in Chinese about music, entertainment, and lifestyle. A very small subset uploaded content in Chinese and English about China and U.S. foreign affairs.”
The purpose of these channels is to first build an audience on YouTube by posting engaging, light content, before then using the audience reach that they’ve gained to sprinkle in some pro-China sentiment, in order to seed it among broader audiences.
That then enables the CCP, and/or related groups, to potentially sway public opinion through subtle means, by gently nudging these viewers towards a more positive view of China’s activities.
The program has seemingly been growing over time, with YouTube detecting more and more channels linked to this group each month. And now, it’s terminating, on average, over 10k YouTube channels a month as part of this push – and again, this is channels we’re talking about, not individual video clips.
It seems that YouTube is a key vector for pro-CCP influence campaigns, and that China is very keen to guide public opinion beyond its borders through whatever means it can.
Which may also suggest that there are similar operations being conducted in other apps, which maybe aren’t being detected. Then you also have Chinese-owned TikTok dominating the space, which has faced various questions over its links to the CCP, and perceived censorship of anti-China content.
If Google’s stamping out 10,000 YouTube accounts per month, it seems very likely that TikTok may also be being used as a vector to influence opinion, which is at least part of why it remains under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS).
With this additional insight from Google’s TAG report, this does seem like a significant concern, which could provide more context as to why TikTok remains under a cloud in the US.
You can read Google’s full TAG report for Q3 here.