Disinformation Abounds in YouTube’s Olympic Highlights.
YouTube viewers who expected to see coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics are instead being shown government propaganda.
WIRED conducted a search on YouTube for the terms “Beijing,” “Beijing 2022,” “Olympics,” and “Olympics 2022,” and discovered that the top results were a mix of pro- and anti-China propaganda.
Nearly 900,000 people have watched the top five propaganda videos, which frequently play over real Olympic moments.
Facebook had previously linked The BL (The Beauty of Life) to the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community that has protested against the Chinese Communist Party since it was outlawed in 1999.
The BL is Responsible for two Anti-China films that Appear in Search Results.
Competition came from other pro-China videos uploaded to YouTube by Westerners whose content has been endorsed by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom all displayed identical search results. In addition, WIRED discovered evidence that pro-China video views are being inflated with the help of fake news sites.
John Scott-Railton, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, first noticed the recent surge of propaganda movies at the beginning of this month.
Scott-Railton discovered this on February 5 after watching videos of ice skating and curling; YouTube then proceeded to broadcast a video from a pro-China YouTube account.
Skating and curling led him “down a slippery slope” into “increasingly focused propaganda,” he adds.
On February 11th, when WIRED did its Research, these videos were no longer Autoplaying.
YouTube may enable such efforts takeover the Olympics given the prevalence of similar films in search results.
YouTube’s Farshad Shadloo said that all of the videos that were shared did not violate the company’s regulations, and that the “vast majority of videos” that appeared in search results were posted by “trusted sources” including NBC Sports and the official Olympics channel.
In many of the commercials promoting Beijing, skier Eileen Gu, who was born in the United States but now lives in China, discusses her desire to represent her adopted country at the next Winter Olympics.
YouTube user Jason Lightfoot’s “USA’s Boycott FAILURE… Eileen Gu Wins Gold” is the most viewed video about Beijing, with over 54,000 views.
Both the United States and Canada participated in a diplomatic boycott of the 2008 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
When Canadians searched for “Olympics 2022” and “Winter Olympics,” the same video by Jason Lightfoot appeared, but it ranked far lower (26th and 33rd, respectively). Western media “can’t take what Eileen Gu represents… someone who has chosen China over the American ideal,” as Lightfoot puts it in the film.
In another video that has gone viral with over 400k views, American YouTuber Cyrus Janssen explains why Gu choose to represent China. The video, which comes up as the fifth result when you search for “Beijing,” provides an overview of Gu’s career before bringing up the widespread coverage of anti-Asian hate crime in the US’s major media.
The video “What the Chinese Think of the US Boycott of Beijing Olympics and Uyghur Issues,” uploaded by an influencer known as Asian Boss, ranks second for the term “Beijing” in terms of views.
With over 300,000 views, this film claims to have spoken with “regular Chinese individuals” in Shanghai about their thoughts on the US decision to bar government personnel from attending the Beijing Olympics.
One respondent said the United States is envious of China because of its booming economy. He brags, “Look, my jeans are over 30k RMB” (about $4.7K). I seriously doubt that any foreigners can afford this.
The nature of the connection between a select group of pro-Beijing YouTubers and the Chinese government remains mysterious.
Potentially, China’s Propaganda Networks are Amplifying their Information without their Consent or Awareness.
According to a research published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in December 2021, the country’s state-backed broadcaster and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs often promote videos by the same accounts on social media.
Even though they are not identified as full-time workers, it appears that both Janssen and Lightfoot make regular contributions to the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN through the network’s global stringer programme. Requests for response from both Lightfoot and the user known as Asian Boss went unanswered.
Videos of ice hockey and speed skating were interspersed with other content, not all of which was pro-China. Snopes, a fact-checking organisation, has labelled The BL, whose video was found in response to the search term “Beijing,” as a media outlet with a “pro-Trump editorial style.”
In the previous three days, BL has released 98 videos.
NBC Sports, the official US broadcaster, has suggested a single video with over 10,000 views over its own coverage of the Olympics.
The Polish short-track speed skater who complained about being put in an ambulance owing to conflicting Covid-19 test results is the subject of a 2:50-long film titled “Beijing Winter Olympics: Polish female athlete carried away at night.”
From “emotional tension” to “burnt food,” the film covers a wide range of athletes’ gripes about their isolation in China.
Advertisements for “Olympics 2022” can also be found on the BL. The ad’s headline read, “Uyghur torchbearer vanishes immediately after match.” When asked for comment, the BL remained silent.
Both the Cyrus Janssen and Asian Boss films were embedded many times on a phoney news site called Oakland News Now, which helped them cheat YouTube’s algorithm, as revealed by Robert Potter, researcher and co-CEO of Australian cyber-security business Internet 2.0.
YouTube’s official spokesperson Shadloo has stated that the website does not permit any methods that artificially enhance views or other metrics.
Potter acknowledges that it is possible to artificially inflate a video’s view count on YouTube by having a single user or computer view the video hundreds of times.
However, he argues that YouTube has a tougher time detecting this kind of behaviour when the video in question is embedded on another website.
It’s more of an attempt to artificially inflate or artificially decrease the number of people that really saw the video than anything else.
Janssen claims that his film did well because he put a lot of effort into producing the thumbnail image, which featured eye-catching colours and a large red “X” to encourage viewers to click.
He claims, “Eileen Gu is a trendy issue,” which explains why his video keeps popping up. In order to succeed as a YouTuber, it is essential to identify trending subjects and release videos at the precise moment when people begin searching for those topics on Google.
In response to allegations that his videos have been used to spread pro-Chinese propaganda, he defended his status as an impartial content creator. “My channel’s goal hasn’t changed throughout the years,” he explains. When the United States and China cooperate, everyone benefits.