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YouTube gets caught auto-censoring criticism of Chinese Communist Party, claims it was accidental

After users highlighted YouTube’s automatic censorship of certain phrases critical of the Chinese Communist Party, the tech company admitted the issue was real but said it was an accident, according to the Verge.

What’s the issue? YouTube’s automatic comment moderation filters were deleting some Chinese phrases that are derogatory toward the CCP, regardless of the context in which they were used. From the Verge:

Comments left under videos or in live streams that contain the words “??” (“communist bandit”) or “??” (“50-cent party”) are automatically deleted in around 15 seconds, though their English language translations and Romanized Pinyin equivalents are not.

The term “??” is an insult that dates back to China’s Nationalist government, while “??,” (or “wu mao”) is a derogatory slang term for internet users paid to direct online discussion away from criticism of the CCP. The name comes from claims that such commenters are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.

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The deletions were most recently highlighted by Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, but the Verge found that the problem has existed and been brought to YouTube’s attention dating back at least to October 2019 through comments on the site’s official help page.

“YouTube has deleted every comment I ever made about the Wumao (??), an internet propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party,” Luckey wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Who at Google decided to censor American comments on American videos hosted in America by an American platform that is already banned in China?”

What does YouTube say about it? Without explaining how or why this became a rule in the moderation system, YouTube simply called it an error and said it was looking into it further.

“This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” a YouTube spokesperson told the Verge in a statement.

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