YouTube has been quietly deleting phrases used to critique China’s government, the video sharing site has admitted.
The Google-owned company is investigating why it has been automatically removing slang words, written in Chinese characters, used to describe a cyber-based propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party.
A spokesman said: “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating.”
Palmer Luckey, co-founder of Oculus Rift, was among the first to report the removals, sharing his concern on Twitter on Monday.
He wrote: “Who at Google decided to censor American comments on American videos hosted in America by an American platform that is already banned in China?”
YouTube has deleted every comment I ever made about the Wumao (五毛), an internet propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party. Who at Google decided to censor American comments on American videos hosted in America by an American platform that is already banned in China?
— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) May 26, 2020
Luckey said comments he made using the phrase 五毛 or “Wu Mao”, a term used to criticise people who are paid to defend the Chinese communist party online, were deleted within “30 seconds” of posting.
Two other derogatory phrases translating to “communist bandit” and “50-cent party”, are also being deleted shortly after being posted in comments sections under YouTube videos. The “50-cent” reference comes from the allegation that online propagandists are paid ¥0.50 (£0.06) per post.
Google has faced criticism for plans to operate in China, as doing so would mean it would have to censor its search engine and other services to comply with the law.
It began testing a censored search engine, Project Dragonfly, to see if it could comply with state censorship. After its existence was reported by the Information, it was dismantled.