YouTube shuts off 210 channels tied to Hong Kong protests

Google-owned video website YouTube announced Thursday that it shut down 210 channels it found were tied to misinformation about ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

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This comes days after social-media giants Facebook and Twitter said they would suspend nearly 1,000 accounts linked to disinformation campaigns surrounding the protests.

“Protecting our users and the integrity of our platforms is essential to Google’s mission,” Shane Huntley, director of software engineering for Google Security’s Threat Analysis Group said in a blog post. “My team works with others across Google to detect phishing and hacking attempts, identify influence operations and protect users from digital attacks.”

When identifying and preventing threats, the post continues, “we exchange information with industry partners and law enforcement, and also apply our own internal investigative tools as well as intelligence from third parties.” Specifically, the team found that the now-defunct channels “behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests” and found “use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations.”

Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong have been storming the streets and demonstrating around major points in the region, including government headquarters and the international airport. The months-long contention between protestors and officials stems from proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law, which would allow case-by-case extraditions to countries that don’t have formal extradition treaties with Hong Kong. It has since exploded into a demand for greater democracy overall.

According to the blog, the move to shut down these channels is part of a larger effort to tighten online security. Google said it took action this week to protect users in Kazakhstan after reports that citizens were being forced to install a government-issued certificate on all their devices that enabled authorities to decrypt and read anything a user types or posts.

“These actions are part of our continuing efforts to protect the integrity of our platforms and the security and privacy of our users,” the blog noted. “Our teams will continue to identify bad actors, terminate their accounts, and share relevant information with law enforcement and others in the industry.”

This is not the first time Google or its subsidiaries are immersed in political controversy. In June, YouTube updated its hate-speech policies to prohibit videos with white supremacy and neo-Nazi viewpoints, after outcry from users and policymakers.