YouTube responded to reports that it is automatically deleting comments criticizing the Chinese government, explaining that the seeming censorship is actually an error in its automated moderation systems.
As the Verge reported, comments on the platform using the Chinese phrases for "communist bandit" or "50-cent party" — two terms tied to criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party — were taken down almost instantly, even if those comments were positive. The latter term (五毛 or "wumao dang") refers to China's censorship efforts, particularly the idea that online commenters are paid to deflect criticism for the government.
Oculus and Anduril founder Palmer Luckey drew attention to the phenomenon on Monday.
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
In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson told TechCrunch that the auto-deletions were a result of "an error in our enforcement systems" that the company is looking into.
"Users can report suspected issues to troubleshoot errors and help us make product improvements," the spokesperson said.
According to YouTube, the situation is an accidental side effect of the platform's comment moderation system, which is designed to filter out hate speech, harassment and spam. The company didn't offer further insight as to how the terms wound up flagged by its automated systems.
With the vast majority of their workforces out of the office, major tech platforms have leaned more heavily on AI moderation methods in recent months, even as they acknowledged that less human oversight would likely lead to more instances of content mistakenly being taken down.