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Google’s Removed Over 31,000 Chinese YouTube Channels for Coordinated Influence Operations in the Last 7 Months

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Google's Removed Over 31,000 Chinese YouTube Channels for Coordinated Influence Operations in the Last 7 Months


Google has published its latest TAG Bulletin report, which provides an overview of all of the coordinated influence operations that its team detected and shut down across its apps in Q1 2022.

And for the most part, it looks pretty straightforward – 3 YouTube channels shut down in relation to efforts to criticize Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, an AdSense account linked to influence operations in Turkey, 42 YouTube channels and 2 Ads accounts terminated as part of an investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Iraq.

But then there’s this:

“We terminated 4361 YouTube channels as part of our ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to China. These channels mostly uploaded spammy content in Chinese about music, entertainment, and lifestyle. A very small subset uploaded content in Chinese and English about China and U.S. foreign affairs. These findings are consistent with our previous reports.”

That seems like a lot right? 4300 YouTube channels – not just individual videos – in a single month, is a lot of content.

But as YouTube notes, that’s actually in line with previous TAG reports.

Going back over its most recent TAG updates, Google removed:

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  • 5,460 YouTube channels in December, also linked to coordinated influence operations linked to China
  • 15,368 Chinese YouTube channels in November
  • 3,311 YouTube channels in October
  • 1,217 in September
  • 1,196 in August
  • 850 in July

All of these are connected to the same investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to China, and all of them have the same description as the one above, relating to “spammy content” around entertainment, with some notes on US/China affairs. That’s over 31,000 YouTube channels removed over the last seven months.

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So what’s going on? What, exactly, are these Chinese influence operations looking to achieve, and are they gaining any traction through this broad-reaching YouTube push?

It seems, based on Google’s description, that the main purpose of this effort is to first build an audience in the app with engaging, light content, before then using that reach to sprinkle in some pro-China sentiment, in order to seed it among broader audiences.

That then enables the CCP, and/or related groups, to potentially sway public opinion through subtle means, by gently nudging these viewers towards a more positive view of China’s activities.

That’s generally been China’s MO with its information operations – on Q and A platform Quora, for example, there are many examples of people asking questions about China, only to see glowingly positive replies from users.

It seems that’s the modus operandi here too, with Chinese-originated groups seeking to build audiences on YouTube to then establish distribution and dissemination chains for pro-China propaganda.

But it’s certainly a significant push, and it’s interesting to note just how much China is ramping up its activity over time. That likely suggests that it sees YouTube as a powerful vector for influence, which further underlines the importance of social platforms taking proactive, definitive steps to stop such programs before they can gain traction.

We’ve asked Google for more info on the specifics of these banned channels, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back.

You can read Google’s latest TAG report here.

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New Legal Challenges Could Further Impact Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover Push

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Elon Musk Mulls Tender Offer for Twitter as an Alternative Path to Take Over the App

So as the fifth week of the Elon Musk Twitter takeover drama comes to a close, let’s just check in on how things are progressing.

Oh, it’s bad. Nothing good to see here.

This week, as Musk maintains that his $44 billion takeover offer remains ‘on hold’ due to questions over the accuracy of Twitter’s claim that 5% of its active users are fake, Twitter itself has faced its own drama, connected to the takeover push.

Having already lost several top executives, either directly or indirectly stemming from the pending change in ownership (as well as former CEO Jack Dorsey exiting the company entirely), Twitter is now facing a battle over its board members, with Silver Lake Partners’ Egon Durban resigning from the board after Twitter shareholders blocked his re-election.

Durban was given a Twitter board seat in 2020, following a push by Elliott Management Group to buy up Twitter shares, and force Jack Dorsey out of his position as CEO. Elliott’s view was that Dorsey was underperforming, and it partnered with Silver Lake to put pressure on the company to either improve its bottom line, or accept a change in management.

That lead to Twitter implementing tough new revenue and growth targets, which it recently admitted that it’s not on track to meet.  

In addition to his work with Twitter and various other public companies, Durban has also been a longtime ally of Elon Musk, and earlier this week, Twitter shareholders voted to stop Durban from being re-appointed, in a move that many viewed as a statement of protest, of sorts, from Twitter investors.

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But as with all things Elon and Twitter, it’s not that simple – today Twitter itself has refused to accept Durban’s resignation.

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In a statement to the SEC, Twitter explained that Durban’s board re-election was likely rejected by shareholders due to him also serving on the board of six other publicly traded companies. Durban has vowed to take a step back from these other commitments, which Twitter says is enough to keep him on its team.

As per Twitter:

“While the Board does not believe that Mr. Durban’s other public company directorships will become an impediment if such engagements were to continue, Mr. Durban’s commitment to reduce his board service commitment to five public company boards by the Remediation Date appropriately addresses the concerns raised by stockholders with regard to such engagements. Accordingly, the Board has reached the determination that accepting Mr. Durban’s Tendered Resignation at this time is not in the best interests of the Company.”

Why does Twitter want to keep Durban on? It’s hard to say – especially given that Musk has noted that he’ll be looking to eliminate Twitter’s board if/when he becomes the platform’s owner.

The inclusion of representatives from key investors, however, may ensure Twitter maintains a level of stability, in case the deal goes south.

And there could be another key reason to maintain the link between Twitter’s board and Musk.

On another front, Twitter shareholders are also mulling a class-action lawsuit against Elon Musk over his Twitter takeover push, based on the allegation that Musk has ‘violated California corporate laws on several fronts’ with his Twitter acquisition commentary, effectively engaging in market manipulation.

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As reported by CNBC:

In one potential violation, they claim that Musk financially benefited by delaying required disclosures about his stake in Twitter and by temporarily concealing his plan in early April to become a board member at the social network. Musk also snapped up shares in Twitter, the complaint says, while he knew insider information about the company based on private conversations with board members and executives, including former CEO Jack Dorsey, a longtime friend of Musk’s, and Silver Lake co-CEO Egon Durban, a Twitter board member whose firm had previously invested in SolarCity before Tesla acquired it.”

Maybe that’s why Twitter wants to keep Durban in-house, due to both his past dealings with Musk, which may help ease the deal through, or to assist shareholders in their class action.

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Durban’s current participation likely doesn’t hold any additional legal clout in this respect, but there may be some linkage between these two aspects of the increasingly messy Twitter deal.

And yes, there is still a possibility that the Musk takeover may not happen.

Musk himself has repeatedly and publicly vowed that he will not pay for the company unless it can convince him that its data on fake profiles is accurate – though Twitter maintains that there’s no such thing as the deal being ‘on hold’ and it’s continuing to prepare for the final transaction to be approved.

But there may also be other complications, with the SEC now investigating Musk’s conduct in the lead-up to his Twitter takeover push. Add to that his many public criticisms and disclosures, which border on market manipulation (as per the proposed shareholder action) and there could well be a breakpoint for Musk’s Twitter deal, where authorities simply veto the process entirely due to his conduct.

Could that be Musk’s plan? Various analysts have suggested that Musk is looking for a way out of the acquisition, and while the overall sentiment is that Musk will, eventually, be forced to pay-up, and take ownership of the app, there are still some legal cracks that he could explore that could end the transaction.

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Which would be a disaster for Twitter.

While investors are unhappy with Musk right now, especially since his various comments and critiques have tanked the stock, Musk walking away would leave Twitter in a much lesser state, with many product leaders gone, and a declining share price that would be difficult to correct, given the various questions raised by Musk about its processes.

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Could Twitter get itself back on track, and back to growth, if Musk were to abandon his takeover push?

In essence, Musk walking away would be a big, public statement that Twitter is not a good investment, and as the media hype dies down, that could see interest in the app decline even further, harming growth for, potentially, years to come.

Maybe that, then, is Musk’s real intent here – to harm the company so much that it has no choice but to accept a lower offer price, which could save Elon himself millions in his takeover bid.

Either way, right now, it’s not looking good, and there are many moving parts that must be keeping current Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal up at night.

It still seems like the Elon era is coming, but when, exactly, is a whole other question.

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