Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) released a report on the coordinated influence operation campaigns it terminated on YouTube during Q3 2022.
For example, in April alone, Google terminated 1,546 YouTube channels as part of the company’s 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.
The number of sites linked to China taken down throughout the quarter remained very high. For May, June and July, Google terminated 4,067, 1,556 and 2,150 YouTube channels respectively with Chinese connections.
Media companies that allow public posting, such as YouTube, are in an unusual position, said Mike Parkin, senior technical engineer at Vulcan Cyber. Parkin said they allow normal people to post anything from funny cat videos to the reporting of solid-citizen journalists with a unique perspective. And with a massive viewership, Parkin said they can give everyone a voice, but they can also be abused to spread misinformation or propaganda to drive a political agenda.
“That puts them in the potentially awkward position of balancing the ‘a voice for everyone’ aspects of the platform with a desire to make sure fiction isn’t being presented as fact,” Parkin said. “Regardless of the specific agenda or country of origin, it’s good to see Google dealing with accounts that are being used to spread propaganda and misinformation. While they are not required to either give everyone a platform or restrict anything but expressly illegal content, it’s ultimately the responsible thing to do.”
John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich, added that information operations are a lucrative way for foreign governments to influence a victim country’s population. Ultimately, he said the internet has enabled low-cost long-distance abilities to communication to massive scale that anyone can use.
“Government’s are not immune to the appeal of such methods,” Bambenek said.