YouTube is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed to The Verge this was happening in error and that it’s working to fix the issue.

“Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our enforcement systems and we are working to fix it as quickly as possible,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy.

But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. The Verge found evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem.

Comments left under videos or in live streams that contain the words “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”) are automatically deleted in around 15 seconds, though their English language translations and Romanized Pinyin equivalents are not.

The term “共匪” is an insult that dates back to China’s Nationalist government, while “五毛,” (or “wu mao”) is a derogatory slang term for internet users paid to direct online discussion away from criticism of the CCP. The name comes from claims that such commenters are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.

These phrases seem to have been accidentally added to YouTube’s comment filters, which automatically remove spam and offensive text. The comments are removed too quickly for human moderation and are deleted even if the banned phrases are used positively (e.g., “The 五毛 are doing a fantastic job”). YouTube says it’s been relying more on its automated filters in recent months due changes to its workforce brought about by the pandemic.

The accidental censorship is even more puzzling considering that YouTube is currently blocked in China, giving its parent company, Google, even less reason to censor comments critical of the CCP or apply moderation systems in accordance with Chinese censorship laws.

The automatic deletion of these phrases was highlighted on Tuesday by US technologist and former Oculus founder Palmer Luckey on Twitter. But earlier reports of the issue date back to the middle of May when they were spotted by human rights activist Jennifer Zeng. As mentioned above, though, The Verge also found complaints on YouTube’s official help pages dated to October 2019.

Google has frequently been criticized for accommodating the wishes of the CCP by censoring content. Most notably, it created a prototype search engine known as Project Dragonfly that complied with Chinese state censorship. The project, which was never deployed, is part of the company’s long-running struggles to enter the Chinese market.

When news of Dragonfly leaked in 2018 in a report from The Intercept, Google was criticized by politicians and its own employees for selling out its principles. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June 2019, the company said it had “terminated” the project and that it had “no plans to launch Search in China.”

Update, May 26th, 12:43PM ET: The story has been updated to include YouTube’s response.

Update, May 27th, 04:18AM ET: The story has been updated with another response from YouTube confirming it is now working on a fix.

Comments

The Verge is a private company, they have every right to alert the public on what comments are allowed on YouTube’s platform.

Username checks out

I’m guessing this is from when they were trying to cozy up to the CCP with Dragonfly. I’m curious to see why it still remains if Google stopped trying to enter china.

Also, Twitter users are saying using these characters resets YouTube livechat. This is inevitably going to be spammed on major livestreams like the COD League.

No, it’s more likely the ad revenue a few Chinese companies are providing Google. The fact that they are banned in China, does not mean that they can’t contract to show Alibaba ads (note: not sure if they actually have a contract with each other, but companies of that sort.)

Those must be some steel knees Google has with being on them so much for the CCP.

All crassness aside, this is yet another incident by Google that shows that no matter how many pride flags they wave, take write offs (sorry I mean donations) they make, or "we’re sorry" statements issued; they only care about the all mighty dollar and trying to get China on its good side.

I’m gay and I would rather they stop marching in the Pride Parade and posting cute multiethnic promotional videos and just "come out" for what they are: a company as greedy, unethical, and willing to indulge authoritarians as any other.

This seems especially odd since Youtube is banned in China. Are they just caving so they can try to get unbanned? This isn’t remotely enough to get China to unban Youtube and it’s going to piss off many users while also pissing off governments. They have the legal right to do what they want with their platform but it kinda feels like they are trying to get governments to more seriously discuss breaking up Google lol

Must be some money scheme cause YouTube is allowed every else around the world. CCP has a new strategy it seems of global media influence be it movies, video games, social media and etc. Look at how many movies are produced by Chinese companies for western market and how many video game companies are owned by Tencent. CCP is playing long con game.

Or maybe they just trying to crush dissenters that are living or working in a foreign country or savvy citizens that by pass the great firewall

For many western companies, China is the last untapped market and it’s one of the biggest markets in the world. So the CCP uses this knowledge to hold companies by the loins, telling them if they want into that market they have to set aside all portrayed morals and play the corrupt game of the CCP. Companies rarely operate under any sort of moral code anymore, so they all acquiesce.

China’s economy has grown and started to shit away from being "the sweatshop of the world" and towards a service economy. That’s why Huawei and TikTok scare the US so much – there’s a lot more money and power in designing and owning things than building them for US companies. I think it’s silly to consider this basic principal in global economics "holding by the loins." No company has "morals" – they have shareholders they’re legally obliged to maximize profit for. How is it more moral for American companies to profit from underpaying Chinese labor than Chinese companies building their own stuff for export?

This is partially true. China has begun a shift toward a service economy, though they have not shifted away from the "sweatshop of the world" at all. You mention a lot more money in designing and owning things, in relation to the country with the highest level of IP theft? Really?

No company has "morals" – they have shareholders they’re legally obliged to maximize profit for.

This is false. It’s an often trumpeted falsity though, so I’ll give the pass that you aren’t intentionally lying. SCOTUS has already said, "modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so." See Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

I never insinuated it was moral to utilize exploited Chinese labor.

Making the matter more puzzling is that YouTube is currently blocked in China, giving its parent company, Google, even less reason to censor comments critical of the CCP or apply moderation systems in accordance with Chinese censorship laws.

It’s not puzzling at all. Just because they told the US Gov’t that they have no plans to launch search in China doesn’t equate to them stating they will not cozy up the the CCP and try to make inroads into China for other services. If they want those sweet, sweet views from China then they have to play the CCP’s game before they even start playing.

共匪 I understand, but why 五毛? That one is extremely appropriate on a social platform like YT.
I mean you cannot possibly ban winnie the pooh on Youtube. Who drew the line anyways?

Because Chinese supporters are constantly being insulted with 五毛 on YouTube.

"Chinese supporters" is a nice way to say "people parroting nationalistic CCP talkingpoints blindly". You don’t get called a Wumao unless you say some idiotic shit most likely hammered into your head by the propaganda of a horrible dictatorship.

I think that’s no big deal. You don’t see Americans banning words like Karen and Boomer on their social media platform. In that sense westerners have very thick skin. Not to mention all the political insults thrown across by the current stans and antis of Trump. Why do CCP supporters get special treatment is a real question.

It’s super important to distinguish between Chinese people (who were amazing and kind whenever I visited China) and those who actively advance Xi’s repressive thought policing.

Just on Youtube in China or worldwide? Didn’t know YouTube was available in China.

Not to be an ass but if you read the article it would answer your question.

"The accidental censorship is even more puzzling considering that YouTube is currently blocked in China, giving its parent company, Google, even less reason to censor comments critical of the CCP or apply moderation systems in accordance with Chinese censorship laws."

Wow! I’m going to try this again.

As, I said in my previous post post before it was taken down..

"Pfft The Verge, and by extension Vox Media, remove comments ALL THE TIME! Where’s the same scrutiny?"

If it’s bad for YouTube to remove censor their comment section, does not the same standard apply here? .. or for all media, matter of fact?

Does Vox moderate their comments section to protect a foreign dictatorship?

What does that have to do with censoring any comment section by any private company?

Cause that’s what YouTube is being criticized for doing in this article and you asked if the same standard applied here. If that standard is, "don’t censor comments critcizing a foreign dictatorship" and the Verge isn’t doing that, then I guess they are applying the same standard to themselves.

If the standard was "comments sections should never be censored" then you might have a better point that the Verge should face some scrutiny, but that’s clearly not the standard that’s being advocated in this article

It’s not clear why these phrases are being deleted, but it seems that they’ve been added to comment filters meant to automatically remove spam or offensive text.

From the article it doesn’t seem clear if that’s the case, right? So, IMO, the greater question is about removing/censoring a comment section for whatever reason.

The Verge censors for whatever reason they see fit, and by all means they can. I see the same for any private company and their comment section. If removal of phrases that may be offensive or insulting, or whatever they want, is what they want to do for whatever reason, then so be it.

I really don’t see any ambiguity here, the issue raised in this article is what comments YouTube is deleting, not that they’re deleting any comments

View All Comments
Back to top ↑