Censorship

What Should We Do If YouTube Censors on Behalf of the Chinese Communist Party?

Technological—not political—solutions will secure true freedom of speech online

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A funny thing has been happening on YouTube. For some reason, certain combinations of Chinese characters have been immediately removed from the platform within a few short seconds. No warning or reason would be given to the Mandarin-speaking moderatees. And it's not like they had been foul or freaky in a foreign tongue. The Hanzi Which Shall Not Be Named were merely 共匪  ("communist bandit") and 五毛 ("fifty cents").

Huh? Why in the world would YouTube want to immediately take down those particular phrases? Well, according to YouTube, they didn't. It's an algorithmic mistake, you see. The company told The Verge that upon review, they discovered this odd insta-deleting was indeed an "error in [their] enforcement systems" that is currently being patched.

How strange that this automated fluke would tend towards the direction of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) preferences. These terms might seem random to Westerners, but they carry significant political weight in China.

It's not nice to call someone a bandit, whether they are a communist or not. But in the Chinese context, the term 共匪 has a very particular meaning: it was used by Nationalist partisans led by the Republic of China's Chiang Kai-shek against the People's Republic of China's Mao Zedong and the reds. Today, it is considered a slur against the CCP and its patriotic supporters.

五毛 is a cleverer anti-CCP troll. It's basically calling a pro-CCP commenter a paid shill, albeit a cheap one. The joke is that human CCP NPCs get paid fifty cents for each pro-CCP post; ergo, the "fifty-cent army" or 五毛党.

One of the weirder things about this controversy is that those terms would not disappear from YouTube comments if you typed them out in English or in Pinyin, which is a phonetic way to write out Chinese characters. They would only get struck if they appeared in the original Hanzi.

Yet YouTube is already banned in China and can be a pain to access without a good VPN and strong desire to do so. It's not like YouTube would have a significant impact on domestic Chinese opinion anyway. It would be like if WeChat, a hugely popular Chinese messaging app that basically no non-expat Americans use, randomly started censoring terms like "MAGAtard" or "McCarthyite." What's the point?

Well, theoretically, this kind of censorship could be aimed at keeping diaspora citizens in line. Chinese immigrants have found success and fortune throughout Western democracies. The CCP may worry that their erstwhile assets could become a little too accustomed to such capitalist pig values as freedom of speech. If people can't be kept off YouTube, maybe the most memorable memes can.

But that is just a theory. We are asked to believe that YouTube's pesky algorithm just happened to accidentally disappear these very particular Chinese anti-government phrases since at least October of 2019. And although users had publicly flagged this "bug" on official YouTube help forums last fall, it did not become a major concern until the issue received attention in the press last week.

Do you believe YouTube? A lot of people don't. It's hard to know for sure what happened. Platform algorithms are necessarily opaque, and they can sometimes produce outcomes that even their designers struggle to understand. Not only are these algorithms trade secrets, they are an inherently secretive trade.

It is entirely possible that YouTube discretion had nothing to do with this seeming pro-CCP censorship. Perhaps the fifty-cent army flagged these phrases enough to become automatic triggers that the algorithm would automatically pull. But it is also possible that someone at YouTube manually added these terms to a blocklist. Other platforms are known to have such lists. Right now, we don't know. Besides, the outcome is a problem either way.

There is a lot of smoke, but is there fire? How deep might such problems run? Someone needs to dig for answers.

The U.S. government could try. Pressure from politicians of both parties contributed to Google winding down its proposed "Dragonfly" Chinese search engine that would have been compliant with CCP censorship demands. Of course, this pressure campaign relied on someone with close knowledge of the Dragonfly Project to leak documents to the Intercept in the first place. Without a whistleblower, there's no trail to follow.

Perhaps YouTube employees will take more public interest in such matters. They are in a good position to extract answers and concessions from their managers if there is more to this story than official statements indicate. It could be personally risky. But Alphabet employees have been willing to stick their necks out for ideals in the past. In addition to their opposition to Project Dragonfly, Googlers' demonstrations against the Project Maven proposal with the U.S. Department of Defense proved fruitful.

We can hope that YouTube will do the right thing. Yet it is an unsatisfactory option, and even the most public-minded company would struggle to consistently and ethically do battle against a set of politically-mediated "enemies." Is that realistic or even desirable?

We are currently amidst a complex debate about what rights and responsibilities platforms may have in moderating user-submitted content. Few would dispute that Section 230, which shields internet actors from legal liability due to information provided by others, is responsible for the internet environment we inhabit today. The problem is that this internet environment is one where hostile foreign governments that operate reeducation camps for religious minorities may stealthily manipulate content and stifle dissent on U.S.-based platforms with impunity. Does anyone really think this is sustainable?

Laws and activism can only do so much. Censorship, whether by accident or pressure, will be a threat whenever a central party has the ability to censor. The cypherpunk activist John Gilmore noted that "the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." It may take time, but eventually we will arrive at a system where authorities could not censor distributed content even if they wanted to.

For those who oppose censorship, working towards solutions that further entrench governments or central platforms in content moderation misses the long-term answer. Instead, they should seek and support technological projects that make the problem irrelevant.

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  1. Lemm grab some popcorn… 5,4,3,2,1, droves of “small government conservatives” will descend, DEMANDING that Section 230 be torn down, and replaced by Ministry of Truth officials from the always-helpful USA Government Almighty! Chinese Commies are beating us at thought control? We have a thought control gap! We must become MORE like them! ASAP!

    1. Repealing 230 reduces the size of government by at least one regulation

        1. 230 is a regulation.

          Repealing it is the process of mooting or removing it.

          Fairly simple, lightweight.

          1. Isn’t it a law that eliminates liability rather than a regulation that constrains liberty?Regs are set by the agencies; legislation is from Congress.

            Federal laws are bills that have passed both houses of Congress, been signed by the president, passed over the president’s veto, or allowed to become law without the president’s signature. Individual laws, also called acts, are arranged by subject in the United States Code. Regulations are rules made by executive departments and agencies, and are arranged by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations.

              1. let me know how your argument with the dictionary works out.

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            1. “Isn’t it a law that eliminates liability rather than a regulation that constrains liberty?”

              laws can also be regulations

              reg·u·la·tion
              /ˌreɡ(y)əˈlāSH(ə)n/
              Learn to pronounce
              noun
              1.
              a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority.
              “planning regulations”
              Similar:
              rule
              ruling
              order
              directive
              act
              law
              bylaw
              statute
              edict
              canon
              ordinance
              pronouncement
              mandate
              dictate
              dictum
              decree
              fiat
              proclamation
              command
              injunction
              procedure
              requirement
              prescription
              precept
              guideline
              ukase
              pronunciamento
              2.
              the action or process of regulating or being regulated.

              HTH

            2. If you think this liability protection is good, how about removing the regulation making it a liability for all businesses instead. Why favor some corporations over others?

              1. Every single corporation gets this protection. Reason gets this protection. And if your bakery runs a forum or comment section on its blog, it gets this protection. Literally anyone hosting user generated content gets this protection. So no corporation is being favored over another.

          2. The problem is once eliminated they will replace it with dozens more regulations defining the liability that previously did not exist

            1. Possibly, and honestly, probably, but that wasn’t what he asked about

      1. 230 protects us from endless hordes of greedy lawyers who want to sue-sue-sue, for hurt baby feelings, etc., to the point where Reason.com comments will go away… Or,they will cost $0.15 per letter or $1.43 per word, to pay all of the lawyers to “vet” our comments. 230 protects us from the ravaging lawyers! And lawyers DO use Government Almighty to back them up!

        By your logic, let’s get rid of the 1st Amendment, because that, too, will reduce the size of Government Almighty! There IS a difference between laws that BIND AND SHRINK Government Almighty, v/s those that GROW the pig-powers!

        1. AHAHAHA YOU SAID EAT SHIT

          AND

          YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT 230 DOES AHAHAHAHAH

        2. to the point where Reason.com comments will go away

          This is wrong

          230 protects us from endless hordes of greedy lawyers who want to sue-sue-sue

          Ah so it you admit it’s just regulatory capture.

          Sorry but I’m a Libertarian, your progressive mores hold no interest for me

        3. “230 protects us from endless hordes of greedy lawyers”

          No, it doesn’t protect you from anything.
          All regulations protect someone from something. Not sure the necessity of regulations to protect thing is a tack libertarians are well served taking

          1. The ABSENCE of 230 or similar (which DOES protect us from hordes of ravenous lawyers and regulators who want to micro-manage the properties of Twitter, Facebook, etc.) WILL be a boon to said lawyer-pigs etc.! “No, it doesn’t protect you from anything.” = utter, counter-factual garbage! I do NOT understand why the bootlickers of the Trumptatorshit can NOT (or will not) understand one VERY simple concept: the Trumptatorshit will NOT last forever! As soon as you give the POTUS (or anyone else in Government Almighty) NEW thought-control powers, those new powers WILL eventually be wielded by your political enemies! Duh! WHY is that so hard to understand? Party now, the hell with the future? THAT is profoundly irresponsible!

            1. I do NOT understand

              You don’t have to keep telling us what we can already see.

              1. OK, then, PLEASE tell us all, WHY it is, that the bootlickers of the Trumptatorshit can NOT (or will not) understand one VERY simple concept: the Trumptatorshit will NOT last forever!

                It’s a pretty simple question, isn’t it? You’d think that even a simpleton could answer a simple question!

                1. ahahaha you got shut the fuck up and now you’re desperately flailing old mex ahahaha

            2. As soon as you give the POTUS (or anyone else in Government Almighty) NEW thought-control powers, those new powers WILL eventually be wielded by your political enemies!

              You mean like 230 does?

              1. 230 allows your political enemies the same freedom of speech that you enjoy. Tyrants and bootlickers should NOT enjoy the “freedom” to shut others up! Deal with it, crybaby tyrant wannabe!

                1. So yes, like 230 does.

                2. “230 allows your political enemies the same freedom of speech that you enjoy. ”

                  I swear was covered by something already…

          2. “No it doesn’t protect you from anything”

            contradicts

            “all regulations protect someone from something”

            unless you are now claiming that Section 230 is not a “regulation”.

            1. ahahah you couldn’t help yourself you had to but out your sockpuppet SQLSRY AHAHAHAHAHAJ

              “unless you are now claiming that Section 230 is not a “regulation”.”

              BigT is.

            2. No.
              “Someone” in this case doesn’t equal “you”.
              “You” = sqrlsy, or other readers
              “Someone” = Facebook et al
              Reading is totes hard

              1. In the case of 230, protecting “someone from something” is protecting Facebook from you taking them to court

          3. All regulation protects us from something? So there is no pointless regulation. How libritarian of you

            1. No you’re reaching badly.

              It is perfectly easy to say that they both protect someone and that said protection is not necessary or even a bad idea.

              Stick to being a mediocre parody of a parody.

            2. Can you name a regulation that doesn’t purport to protect someone from something?

        4. Comments existed prior to the enactment of 230 dummy.

          1. hush he’s emoting

        5. 230 protects us from endless hordes of greedy lawyers who want to sue-sue-sue,

          *I* can still be sued despite Section 230’s existence. My local baker, grocery store owner, restaurateur, mechanic, and gunsmith can still be sued despite Section 230’s existence. Who exactly is it shielding from this hoard of lawyers? Lawyers don’t work for free, who’s paying all of them? Even if they’ve got a mountain of cash to set fire to fighting YouTube, wouldn’t it behoove them to save their money for the more critical cases?

      2. Reduces crony capitalism by one corporate carve out.

    2. “Lemm grab some popcorn”

      Why, so you can leave it there while you chow on your feces?

    3. DEMANDING that Section 230 be torn down, and replaced by Ministry of Truth officials

      I don’t know how else/better to say that section 230 is effectively one side’s Ministry of Truth and that a repeal of section 230 without installing a Ministry of Truth is the local minimum of government involvement.

      1. CDA 230 as written was about right.

        As interpreted by judicial authoritarians for years, it is pure crony capitalism, a corporate carveout from liabiity law for favored industries.

    4. Wuh wuh wuh?

      @Reason has taught me for years that there’s no possible downside to #CCP control of US businesses, and other #CCP “investments”.

      Anyone objecting to Emperor Xi controlling US telecom is an anti free market racist!

  2. We agree that the 1A doesn’t apply to the Chinese government and applaud our Socialist Brothers and Sisters and Whatever Else for stopping Orange Man Bad?

    1. Orange Man bad?!? He BAD, all right! He SOOO BAD, He be GOOD! He be GREAT! He Make America Great Again!

      We KNOW He can Make America Great Again, because, as a bad-ass businessman, He Made Himself and His Family Great Again! He Pussy Grabber in Chief!

      See The Atlantic article by using the below search-string in quotes:
      “The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet” or this one…

      https://reason.com/2019/09/02/republicans-choose-trumpism-over-property-rights-and-the-rule-of-law/

      He pussy-grab His creditors in 7 bankruptcies, His illegal sub-human workers ripped off of pay on His building projects, and His “students” in His fake Get-Rich-like-Me realty schools, and so on. So, He has a GREAT record of ripping others off! So SURELY He can rip off other nations, other ethnic groups, etc., in trade wars and border wars, for the benefit of ALL of us!!!

      All Hail to THE Pussy Grabber in Chief!!!

      Most of all, HAIL the Chief, for having revoked karma! What comes around, will no longer go around!!! The Donald has figured out that all of the un-Americans are SOOO stupid, that we can pussy-grab them all day, every day, and they will NEVER think of pussy-grabbing us right back!

      Orange Man Bad-Ass Pussy-Grabber all right!

      We CAN grab all the pussy, all the time, and NONE will be smart enough to EVER grab our pussies right back!

      These voters simply cannot or will not recognize the central illusion of politics… You can pussy-grab all of the people some of the time, and you can pussy-grab some of the people all of the time, but you cannot pussy-grab all of the people all of the time! Sooner or later, karma catches up, and the others will pussy-grab you right back!

      1. Can you repeat that? I wasn’t listening.

      2. Oh go fuck yourself, retard.

    2. We agree that the 1A doesn’t apply to the Chinese government and applaud our Socialist Brothers and Sisters and Whatever Else for stopping Orange Man Bad?

      Just more entrepreneurial Americans who just happened to be born on the wrong soil.

  3. We know that Alphabet is a lap dog to communist bandits and their $0.50 cronies.

    1. Some parts of the alphabet are: NBA.

    2. It always comes back to G-Unit, doesn’t it

      1. I’m more of a DMX fan myself

  4. No, I don’t believe youtube.

    Yes, I do think the CEO is a punk like Dorsey.

    Fuck China.

    The end.

  5. Their fifty-cent army pays better than our two-bit trolls

    1. C’mon, their entertainment value is priceless

      1. you misspelled “our”

    2. the trolls are paying you?

      1. I caught that too.

      2. There’s a Yakov Smirnoff joke in there somewhere.

        “In Soviet Russia, trolls pay you!”

  6. Calling communist bandits is a slur on bandits. History has shown them to be far worse.

  7. What Should We Do If YouTube Censors on Behalf of the Chinese Communist Party?

    Stop relying on YouTube for anything other than entertainment. Use alternative sources for information, such as Bitchute. That’s the nice thing about innovation – there’s always some new alternative that’s looking to disrupt the established players. Not that long ago YouTube was that “new thing” but as usually happens they became the establishment, so now it’s up to others to fill that role.

    1. “…such as Bitchute.”

      Thanks! I wasn’t aware of that. Trying to overcome “confirmation bias” in the heads of those whose minds can never be changed here is frustrating. But at least people like you put up useful stuff from time to time!

      1. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t used Bitchute very much myself, but it was the first thing that popped into my head as it’s a video sharing platform similar to YouTube but with less censorship.

        IIRC, they only remove videos with obscene or illegal content. So no pron, snuff films, or kiddie porn (Palin’s Buttplug will be disappointed at that last one), and they don’t push certain videos from certain sources over others (like YouTube does with mainstream news outlets such as CNN over independent content creators). They’re kind of what YouTube used to be before they started sucking Chinese cock, schilling for the mainstream media, and demonetizing content seemingly based on certain viewpoints.

    2. Stop relying on YouTube for anything other than entertainment. Use alternative sources for information, such as Bitchute.

      While I don’t disagree with the intent or pragmatics, there are some false equivalencies and foregone conclusions/assumptions being made here. If I thought Section 230 favored an established internet company over a smaller one, switching to the smaller one doesn’t necessarily overcome the favoritism. Even if it does, it just makes Bitchute the new favorite. Doubly so if Youtube is bought and paid for by the CCP. That’s not to say that because the CCP exists no one should use Bitchute, but that simply choosing the other option doesn’t necessarily fix the underlying and/or overarching or otherwise more insidious problem(s).

  8. It’s an algorithmic mistake, you see.

    Uh huh. I don’t know if the current version does this, but back in the day, Spellchecking “Larry Ellison” (CEO of Oracle) in Microsoft Word returned the recommendation of “Larva”.

  9. >>Today, it is considered a slur against the CCP and its patriotic supporters.

    now I’m gonna put it on a t-shirt

    1. now I’m gonna put it on a t-shirt

      Riot Cops Anti-protest officers finally tear up your good Che Guevara shirt?

      1. more like I’d wear it to a Mavs game and get on NBA-TV

        1. Make sure the shirt is made in the free world, lest you be like any other Che Guevara-wearing chump.

          1. ooh good point.

    2. Sargon of Akkad already did. You can get yours here!

  10. Technological—not political—solutions will secure true freedom of speech online

    I haven’t read the article yet, but this line stuck out like a sore thumb.

    As the current situation– and recent history has clearly shown us– this is entirely a two-way street.

    Technology has been incredibly useful in stifling freedom of speech online. In the early, more ‘federated’ internet days, it seemed clear that technology was a fantastic equalizer in the speech game, which is why so many media companies have fallen, and continue to fall from grace. But as we’ve seen, those who saw that as a problem have deployed technology to narrow the discourse. And to use China as an example, they’ve deployed one of the most comprehensive technological solutions on the planet, all designed to stifle speech online– and if you’ve ever been to China, it’s pretty effective. There are ways around it (technology) and the Chinese government continues to find ways of shutting those ways down (technology).

    I think that without a political undercurrent of free speech tolerance, the game of free speech is reduced to a escalating game of cat and mouse. At some point, we need to put some value on the culture of free speech.

  11. What Should We Do If YouTube Censors on Behalf of the Chinese Communist Party?

    You should do like the rest of the writers at Reason do. Say it’s a private company and if you don’t like it start your own video hosting site.

  12. I’ll be damned if I set up a social media account just so I can virtue signal by not using it.

  13. It’s simple. YouTube hired a 50 cent army to build their censorship algorithm. Some of those minions took it upon themselves to insert a few of their own terms to censor.

    1. Good point! Simple explanation and probably true!

      Years ago I said some very harsh things about $cientology in book reviews about books slamming $cientology, on Amazon.com… And the reviews disappeared! Later I read about some Scientology insiders working at Amazon who were pulling these kinds of reviews down… Amazon had to put measures into place to prevent this kind of thing!

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  14. Youtube is owned by Google/Alphabet and we all know what kind of authoritarian morons run Alphabet. Those nerds would love to be at the top of a technocratic oligarchy.

  15. They are obviously doing this so as to keep their access and hopes for future access to a truly epic market, +1 billion and more potential consumers. Many big American companies are doing this lately. I was disappointed with Blizzard for punishing the HearthStone Champion when he said Free Hong Kong. Money talks. Don’t care if the company is left, right, center or sideways, companies exist to make money and so of course they will sell their very ideals out to make money. Though to be fair, it is a huge amount of money in this case.

  16. When people, bigots, already self censor crucial evidence and advocate that the state should as well whenever it suits them, large scale political and correctness censorship is on the doorstep.

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  18. Calling communist bandits is a slur on bandits. History has shown them to be far worse. https://mp3ytb.cc

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