Google said Thursday it had taken down more than 200 channels posting on protests in Hong Kong on its video-streaming site YouTube, the latest technology firm to strike back against Chinese-backed efforts to influence clashes over the future of the region’s fragile democracy.
Google removed the channels after discovering they “behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the months-long unrest in Hong Kong,” the company said in a blog post. The online search giant linked the accounts to recent Chinese-backed operations removed by Facebook and Twitter.
Google did not provide information about the content it had discovered beyond saying that those who uploaded the videos sought to disguise their origin — and the company further declined to flag Beijing directly as the culprit.
The announcement illustrates the reach and pervasiveness of China’s attempts to steer the online conversation about the demonstrations in Hong Kong. And it raised fresh questions about YouTube, which typically has said much less than other social-media platforms about the extent of disinformation it finds and removes from its site.
The takedowns this week by the tech giants also reflect the broader impact disinformation has taken on in political situations globally, far surpassing the once-secret efforts of Russian agents to stoke social unrest in the United States during the 2016 presidential election. Researchers recently have pointed to similar campaigns linked to Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, efforts aimed at shaping discussions on social media beyond their borders.
State-backed agents have been turning to the largest social media sites in the hopes of swaying protesters in the simmering feud over the future of Hong Kong, which is grappling with new threats to its semi-autonomous government.
Earlier this week, Twitter said it had identified and suspended nearly a thousand suspicious Chinese accounts and banned advertising from state-owned media companies, citing a “significant state-backed information operation” related to protests in Hong Kong. And Facebook said it took down a handful of accounts, as well as several pages and private groups that it said were using deceptive tactics.
Disinformation and other online deceptions have become a focus for the Silicon Valley firms, which are facing a big test leading into next year’s presidential U.S. presidential election. The companies have acknowledged large-scale efforts to try to sway voters through phony news articles, videos and forums.