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YouTube Deletes Comments Critical of China’s Communist Party

Mark Bergen

(Bloomberg) -- YouTube has been deleting comments critical of China’s ruling party due to a software flaw, the company said on Tuesday in response to criticism of the practice.

Users of the online video giant, a division of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, flagged that certain comments posted below videos critical of the Chinese Communist Party were quickly deleted.

“This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” a YouTube spokesperson said in an email.

The spokesperson said the issue was not the result of a policy change. Some comments posted in Chinese language, such as “communist bandit” and “50-cent party,” a derogatory term for the ruling party, were deleted within seconds. YouTube’s automatic filters eliminate comments that violate company policies. The Verge reported the issue earlier Tuesday.

YouTube pulls comments that violate its Community Guidelines, such as spammy, hateful or harassing posts. Human moderators, who are often contractors, help with this. But during the Covid-19 lockdown, these workers have not been coming to the office, leaving YouTube relying more on automated systems to filter out the dross. The company warned in March there would be less content moderation and slower customer support.

Read more: Machines Don’t Measure Up as Facebook, Google Workers Stay Home

Google removed its search engine from mainland China in 2010, citing security and censorship concerns. A Google project to create a censored search service for the country, called Dragonfly, was killed last year after protests from employees and U.S. politicians.

YouTube does not operate in China, but the nation, like others, does ask Google to review some videos running online outside its borders. China’s government issued 127 requests to review 1,601 YouTube video links in the first half of 2019, some of which were related to hate speech and alleged government criticism, according to Google transparency reports. Two videos resulted in “channel termination,” the company said.

(Updates with details on moderators in fifth paragraph.)

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