Google has suspended 210 YouTube channels it says were being used as part of a “coordinated” campaign to influence public opinion about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The move follows Twitter’s suspension earlier this week of nearly 1,000 accounts for violating the company’s “platform manipulation policies” it said were tied to Chinese state actors trying to undermine the Hong Kong protests. Facebook said it was also taking down several pages and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong.”
In a statement, Google, which owns YouTube and whose parent company is Alphabet Inc., said its decision to suspend the channels was “to combat coordinated influence operations,” but it stopped short of directly blaming the Chinese government.
It said the channels “behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” adding that their discovery “was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”
“We found use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations,” the statement said.
Google is a financial supporter of NPR.
The student-led protests in Hong Kong have been going on for nearly 11 weeks. They started out with calls for the government to kill a controversial bill that would have allowed some accused of crimes in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. Since then, the protesters have added old and new grievances, including calls for the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive and an independent investigation of alleged police brutality in dealing with the demonstrators.
Meanwhile, Beijing has weighed in, warning protesters that they are “playing with fire” and making it known that China would respond with force if necessary. Chinese state media has broadcast video of armored personnel carriers participating in drills conducted by the Chinese People’s Armed Police in the neighboring city of Shenzhen.
China’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Geng Shuang, responding on Tuesday to the reports that Twitter and Facebook had suspended accounts over the alleged influence campaign, said he believed “people around the world will come to their own judgement about what happens in Hong Kong and what is the truth.”
The news from Google comes as a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill warns that China is using social media platforms to manipulate public opinion over Hong Kong, according to The Hill.
Praising Facebook and Twitter for their quick action, California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told the newspaper, “We know from experience that social media platforms can be powerful engines for spreading false information online with real world consequences.”