YouTube on Tuesday acknowledged it deleted comments critical of the Chinese Communist party from its video platform. The comments were removed by mistake, the company said, because of an “error” in its systems for taking down content that violates YouTube’s rules.
A company spokeswoman said the removals were not part of any policy change. “Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our enforcement systems and we are working to fix it as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement. The Verge earlier reported the takedowns.
The video comments were flagged automatically by YouTube’s software filters. They included Chinese phrases that translate to “communist bandit” and “50-cent party,” which are insults to the nationalist government.
The deletions come as Google, which owns YouTube, faces sharp criticism over its relationship with China. In 2010, Google pulled out of the search market in China after co-founder Sergey Brin cited the government’s “totalitarian” policies, including censorship of the web.
Google received blowback two years ago for Project Dragonfly, an initiative to bring a censored search product to China. The effort would reportedly blacklist search terms disapproved of by the Chinese government, such as “student protest” and “Nobel Prize.” It also may have tied searches to people’s phone numbers. Google employees and human rights advocates protested when news of Dragonfly broke.
Google has also been criticized for its artificial intelligence lab in Beijing, which opened in 2017. Last year, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the search giant’s work in the country is “indirectly benefiting the Chinese military.” Pichai ended up meeting with both Dunford and President Donald Trump that month to discuss Google’s relationship with China.