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YouTube shuts more than 200 channels spreading disinformation on Hong Kong protests

China accused of online disinformation

YouTube has shut down more than 200 channels spreading disinformation related to the ongoing mass protests in Hong Kong, Google announced Thursday. The decision follows the suspension of hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook accounts tied to the Chinese government earlier this week.

YouTube said it disabled 210 channels that had posted videos about the protests. According to the tech giant, the channels were "coordinated influence operations" working to undermine the ongoing pro-democracy protests.

Google said it removed the channels earlier this week after discovering their motives. Shane Huntley, of Google Security, said the "discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter."

According to Huntley, the channels used VPNs — virtual private networks — and other means to hide the origins of their accounts. He didn't say how many videos had circulated or how popular they were before they were taken down.

Hong Kong protests continue for 11th weekend as demonstrators demand democratic reform

On Monday, Twitter deactivated accounts it said were "deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground." Internal investigations showed the accounts worked together in a "coordinated state-backed operation."

The company said 936 of the "most active" accounts were based in China. A bigger network of 200,000 "more spammy" accounts was also suspended.

Following a tip from Twitter, Facebook announced the removal of seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts "involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior" focused on Hong Kong. A Facebook investigation also linked the users behind the spread of disinformation on the platform to the Chinese government.

According to both tech companies, many of the terminated accounts posed as news agencies and individuals but were linked to the Chinese government.

Pro-democracy protests have continued in Hong Kong for weeks amid alleged police brutality. Last weekend, an estimated 1.7 million people — a quarter of the territory's population — took part in a peaceful march. But, rising violence has come with rising fear that China could deploy its military or paramilitary forces to put down the protests.

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