YouTube has banned a large number of Chinese accounts it said were engaging in “coordinated influence operations” on political issues, the company announced today; 2,596 accounts from China alone were taken down from April to June, compared with 277 in the first three months of 2020.
“These channels mostly uploaded spammy, non-political content, but a small subset posted political content primarily in Chinese similar to the findings in a recent Graphika report, including content related to the U.S. response to COVID-19,” Google posted in its Threat Analysis Group bulletin for Q2.
The Graphika report, entitled “Return of the (Spamouflage) Dragon: Pro Chinese Spam Network Tries Again,” can be read here. It details a large set of accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media that began to be activated early this year that appeared to be part of a global propaganda push:
The network made heavy use of video footage taken from pro-Chinese government channels, together with memes and lengthy texts in both Chinese and English. It interspersed its political content with spam posts, typically of scenery, basketball, models, and TikTok videos. These appeared designed to camouflage the operation’s political content, hence the name.
It’s the “return” of this particular spam dragon because it showed up last fall in a similar form, and whoever is pulling the strings appears undeterred by detection. New, sleeper and stolen accounts were amassed again and deployed for similar purposes, though now — as Google notes — with a COVID-19 twist.
When June rolled around, content was also being pushed related to the ongoing protests regarding the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other racial justice matters.
The Google post notes that the Chinese campaign, as well as others from Russia and Iran, were multi-platform, as similar findings were reported by Facebook, Twitter and cybersecurity outfits like FireEye.
Having taken down 186 channels in April, 1,098 in May and 1,312 in June, we may be in for a bumper crop in the summer as well. Watch with care.