YouTube removes 210 channels spreading Hong Kong disinformation

The channels used software to mask their origin and were consistent with China-linked accounts removed by Twitter and Facebook, the company said.
Image: Police officers fire tear gas as anti-extradition bill protesters demonstrate in Sham Shui Po neighbourhood in Hong Kong
Police officers fire tear gas as anti-extradition bill protesters demonstrate in Sham Shui Po neighbourhood in Hong Kong, China on Aug. 11, 2019.Tyrone Siu / Reuters file

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By David Ingram

YouTube said Thursday it had found and disabled 210 channels that were spreading disinformation about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, at least the third such action by an American social media company since the street marches began months ago.

YouTube said in a blog post that it took down the channels this week as part of its effort “to combat coordinated influence operations,” a higher priority for social media networks since they found that Russians ran “influence operations” campaigns ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election by posting divisive material under pseudonyms.

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Twitter and Facebook said Monday they had removed a sweeping network of hundreds of troll accounts linked to China that aimed to fuel political discord in Hong Kong.

YouTube said its takedown was “consistent” with the actions by Twitter and Facebook, though YouTube, which is owned by Google, did not mention the Chinese government in its blog post. The company declined to comment beyond the post.

YouTube’s post said that the people behind the accounts used virtual private network software, or VPNs, and other methods to disguise their origin. They also used “other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations,” the company said.

“These actions are part of our continuing efforts to protect the integrity of our platforms and the security and privacy of our users,” Shane Huntley of Google’s threat analysis group said in the post.

Many of the accounts removed earlier by Twitter pushed conspiracy theories about the Hong Kong protest groups, according to examples shared by Twitter. One Twitter post in English asked, “Are these people who smashed the Legco (Legislative Council of Hong Kong) crazy or taking benefits from the bad guys?” Other accounts posed as Hong Kong news outlets.

The demonstrations began in March in response to an extradition bill that organizers feared would place Hong Kong further under the jurisdiction of China, which assumed authority over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997.

Hundreds gathered Wednesday for a sit-in at a Hong Kong subway station to mark the one-month anniversary of a violent incident in which peaceful demonstrators were attacked by mobs linked to organized crime.