YouTube has been auto-deleting comments about China's government-sponsored hacker army, but says it is 'an error in our enforcement systems'

YouTube has been auto-deleting comments about China's government-sponsored hacker army, but says it is 'an error in our enforcement systems'
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris on March 26, 2019.Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty
  • YouTube has been deleting comments on videos with the phrases "共匪" ("Communist Bandit") or "五毛" ("50 Cent Party") — terms that are associated with criticism of the Chinese government.
  • The phrases are derogatory in nature, and the latter is a more recent invention that specifically refers to internet users who are paid by the Chinese government to spread propaganda.
  • Comments that contain either, or both, phrases on YouTube videos are deleted nearly instantly. Business Insider was able to replicate it, with our comments deleted in less than 25 seconds.
  • YouTube acknowledged the deletions on Tuesday, and said it was a mistake. "This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating," YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said in an email response.

YouTube has been deleting comments that contain two phrases that are directly tied to criticism of the Chinese government.

Using the phrases "共匪" ("Communist Bandit") or "五毛" ("50 Cent Party") triggers comments to be automatically deleted, regardless of the words around them, in under 30 seconds. The former is a term that goes back decades, while the latter is a more recent creation that's used pejoratively to refer to people who are paid by the Chinese government to spread propaganda online.

If either phrase appears in a YouTube comment with Simplified Chinese characters, the comment is swiftly deleted — we were able to replicate as much repeatedly.
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YouTube has been auto-deleting comments about China's government-sponsored hacker army, but says it is 'an error in our enforcement systems'
This comment was deleted near-instantly after being posted.YouTube

These deletions were a mistake, YouTube representative Ivy Choi said in a statement to Business Insider.

"This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating," she said. Specifically, the error is said to be related to YouTube's greater than usual reliance on automated moderation systems as employees work from home during the ongoing pandemic.
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Senator Ted Cruz highlighted the issue in tweet on Tuesday morning. "This is very disturbing. Why is Google/YouTube censoring Americans on behalf of the CCP?" he said, a reference to the Chinese Communist Party. "DOJ needs to stop this NOW."

Notably, comments with either phrase transliterated into English characters don't get flagged for moderation. Similarly, there are plenty of videos on YouTube with the English version of "五毛" — "wu mao" — as the video title. YouTube isn't available in China, and both Google and YouTube have a long history of attempting — and failing — to bring their services to the region.
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