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YouTube disables 210 channels spreading misinformation about Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong Protests
A pro-democracy protester holds a luminous sign as she attends a rally in Hong Kong. AFP

YouTube has disabled 210 accounts believed to be working in tandem to spread misinformation about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, Google announced Thursday.

The move comes just days after Facebook and Twitter removed hundreds of accounts from their platforms that were focused on discrediting the protests.

“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” Shane Huntley of Google’s Threat Analysis Group wrote in a blog post. “This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in Hong Kong for weeks against a bill that would allow criminal extradition from Hong Kong to China. The protests have since evolved into a broader call for democratic reforms in the special administrative region.

“We found use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations,” Huntley wrote.

It’s not clear what specific messages or videos the YouTube accounts were pushing out, or if they were publishing the same videos or a collection of different ones. A Google spokesperson declined to give Digital Trends any additional details on the videos or accounts.

In the same blog post, Huntley gave an update on reports that Kazakhstan’s citizens were required to “download and install a government-issued certificate on all devices and in every browser” that would allow the Kazakh government to read anything that users type, along with their account information and passwords. Google and Mozilla have both moved to protect Firefox and Chrome users from the government’s data-snooping tools.

Fake accounts – especially those created by a government to push messages full of propaganda – have been a growing problem in recent years. While social networks like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all have taken some action against fake accounts, experts expect the issue to only grow, especially as companies push for unfettered user growth.

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