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Google’s Removed Over 50k YouTube Channels Linked to Influence Operations Originating from China

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YouTube Expands its 'Pre-Publish Checks' Tool to the Mobile App

This seems to be a significant, yet largely buried element within Google’s TAG Bulletin reports, which provide an overview of all of the coordinated influence operations that its team has detected and shut down over time.

As we reported back in May, at the time of Google’s Q1 TAG Bulletin, Google removed more 31,000 YouTube channels linked to Chinese-based influence operations between July last year and March 2022, a huge amount, which far outweighed any other element.

And today, Google has shared its Q2 Tag Bulletin, which, along with its various efforts to combat Russian-backed misinformation efforts about the invasion of Ukraine, also details that it shut down another 7,169 YouTube channels linked back to China in the last three months.

For comparison, Google removed 231 YouTube channels, in total, in connection to the Ukraine conflict.

As explained by Google:

“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.

Which is the explanation Google has provided for all of these removals, a templated, and somewhat vague summary of what’s going on with these channels.

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So what is going on, exactly?

There’s not a lot of detail provided, but it seems that the main purpose of these channels is to first build an audience in the app by posting engaging, light content, which grabs viewer attention. The channels then eventually use that reach to sprinkle in some pro-China sentiment, in order to seed such 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.

And the scale of the operation is significant – in total, over the past year, Google has now detected and removed more than 50,000 YouTube channels (not individual videos, mind you, channels) connected to this effort.

That’s a lot, and if you look at the data, the program seems to have ramped up significantly this year, which likely suggests that whoever is behind it sees YouTube as a powerful vector for influence.

The data further underlines the importance of social platforms taking proactive, definitive steps to stop such programs before they can gain traction, while also pointing to how state-based actors are looking to utilize the scale of social networks to influence global opinion.

Which is also a concern linked to the rise of TikTok, with many security experts warning of the potential dangers of the Chinese-owned app gathering information and/or enabling pro-China narratives to proliferate.

Indeed, TikTok has come under scrutiny on several occasions over its perceived efforts to suppress anti-China content, and with recent analysis also showing that the app is becoming a key news and information resource for younger users, that may well become a bigger issue over time.

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Add to this the fact that the Chinese Government continues to clash with other world leaders, on various fronts, and there’s clearly reason for some concern there.

And with pro-China groups also looking to infiltrate YouTube at this scale, there does appear to be some important trends emerging within the broader flow of news and information online.

We’ve asked Google for more information on exactly what’s going on with these YouTube removals, and we’ll add to this story if/when we hear back.

UPDATE: Google has referred us to this Twitter thread, on a China-linked group named DragonBridge, for more context on the removals.



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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

As it works to latch onto the short-form video trend, and negate the rising influence of TikTok, Meta has announced some new updates for Reels, across both Facebook and Instagram, including additional Reels insights, the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker, and ‘auto-created’ Reels clips. Yes, automatically created Reels videos.

Here’s how the new additions work.

The main addition is the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker from Stories to Reels, providing another way to prompt engagement from other users via Reels clips.

As you can see in these example images, you’ll now be able to post ‘Add Yours’ questions via Reels clips, while you’ll also be able to view all the various video responses to any prompt in each app.

It could be another way to spark engagement, and lean into the more interactive ethos of the short form video trend. Part of the appeal of TikTok is that it invites people in, with the participatory nature of the app essentially expanding meme engagement, by making it more accessible for users to add their own take.

Meta will be hoping that the ‘Add Yours’ sticker helps to facilitate the same, prompting more engagement with Reels clips.

Next up is auto-created Facebook Reels, which, as it sounds, will enable users to automatically convert their archived Stories into Reels clips.

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Reels updates

As you can see here, you’ll soon see a new ‘Create from Your Story Archive’ prompt in the Reels creation flow, which will then enable you to convert your Stories into Reels clips.

So it’s not exactly wholly automated Reels creation, as it’s just flipping your Stories clips into Reels as well. But it could provide another, simple way for users and brands to create Stories content, utilizing the video assets that they already have to link into the trend.

Worth noting that Meta also recently added a tool to convert your video assets into Reels within Creator Studio.

Meta’s also expanding access to its ‘Stars’ creator donations to Facebook Reels, which is now being opened up to all eligible creators.

Stars donations in Reels

Meta initially announced the coming expansion of Stars to Reels back in June, which will provide another critical monetization pathway for Reels creators. Short form video is not as directly monetizable as longer clips, where you can insert pre and mid-roll adds, so add-on elements like this are key to keeping creators posting, and fueling an ecosystem for such in its apps.

Stars on Reels will be available all creators that have maintained at least 1,000 followers over the last 60 days.

Meta’s also adding new Reels performance insights to Creator Studio, including Reach, Minutes Viewed, and Average Watch Time.

Reels updates

That’ll provide more perspective on what’s working, and what’s not, to help optimize your Reels approach – which could be especially valuable in the coming holiday push.

Lastly, Meta’s also expanding some Reels features that were previously only available in Instagram to Facebook as well.

Crossposting from Instagram to Facebook is now available to all Instagram users, while Meta’s also expanding its Remix option to Facebook Reels also.

Reels updates

As noted, Reels has become a key focus for Meta, as the short-form video trend continues to gain traction, and TikTok continues to rise as a potential competitor. By replicating TikTok’s main elements, Meta’s working to negate its key differentiation, which could ensure that more of its users don’t bother downloading a new app, and just stick with its platforms instead.’

Which, whether you agree with that approach or not, has proven effective. Reels content now makes up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram, while video content, overall, makes up 50% of the time that people spend on Facebook.

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Meta additionally notes that it’s seen a more than 30% increase in engagement time with Reels across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meta doesn’t need to ‘beat’ TikTok as such (as much as it would like to), but it does need to dilute its significance if it can, and make it less appealing for users to have to start yet another new account, and re-build their friends list.

That’s why it’ll continue to replicate TikTok at every turn, because millions of people are currently not going to TikTok because of the presence of Reels in its apps.  

You can learn more about Meta’s new Reels updates here.

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