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YouTube Shuts Down 210 Accounts Tied to “Influence Operations” Against Hong Kong

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  • YouTube has removed 210 channels that engaged in “coordinated influence operations” against the protest movement in Hong Kong.
  • Earlier this week, Twitter and Facebook took actions to suspend similar accounts that they said were connected to a state-backed operation controlled by China.
  • All three companies have recently come under fire for running anti-protest ads sponsored by Chinese government-funded media outlets.

YouTube Accounts Suspended

Google announced Thursday that it had suspended 210 YouTube accounts tied to a “coordinated influence” campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The move comes just days after Twitter and Facebook both said they had shuttered similar accounts linked to a state-backed operation launched by China to undermine the protest movement in Hong Kong that started over a proposed extradition bill.

Google, which owns YouTube, made the announcement in a blog post.

“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,” the statement said. 

“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” it continued.

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

Twitter and Facebook Suspend Accounts

In a blog post on Monday, Twitter disclosed that it had found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”

Twitter said that it had suspended 936 accounts “originating from within” China, that 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.”

Also on Monday, Facebook announced that it had “removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong.”

“The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts […] to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites,” the post continued.

Facebook also included examples of the content that had been posted on some of the pages it removed.

One post translated by Facebook compared the protestors to Islamic State militants. “Protesters. ISIS fighters What’s the difference?” the post read. Other posts referred to the activists as “cockroaches.” 

Google, however, did not explicitly say in its blog post if it had found that the Chinese government was behind the now removed accounts. 

A Google spokesperson had no comment when asked by BBC if the company agreed with Twitter and Facebook’s findings that the suspended accounts were part of a state-backed misinformation campaign to undermine the demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Platforms Slammed for Chinese Ads

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have also been criticized for running anti-protest advertisements from state-owned Chinese media companies.

Twitter responded to these complaints Monday by announcing that it would no longer sell ads to state-controlled news media outlets. 

Facebook did not indicate that it was changing its ad sales policies, though a spokesman did tell Reuters that the company will “continue to look at [our] policies as they relate to state-owned media.” 

Facebook’s statement comes after BuzzFeed News reported that they had found three ads from Chinese state-owned media on Facebook downplaying the human rights abuses occurring at Muslim internment camps run by the Chinese government.

YouTube also said it was not planning to change it’s ad policies, but told Reuters that “it would soon be expanding its labeling of state-backed media outlets in the region.”

According to Reuters, while YouTube places disclaimers on government-funded networks from all over the world, including several Chinese outlets, it does not give that disclaimer for the Chinese newspapers People’s Daily, China Daily, and Global Times, all of which are funded by the Chinese government.

Protests Continue

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, planned demonstrations continued Friday as protestors formed a human chain that reportedly spanned more than 20 miles.

The demonstration was planned for the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful demonstration against Soviet occupation where an estimated two million people formed a 372-mile-long human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Friday’s event comes as part of a series of other demonstrations planned for the 12th consecutive week of protests in the city. It also follows a march last Sunday that protest leaders said drew 1.7 million people in one of the biggest shows of support since the movement began.

Despite escalating clashes with the police and mounting pressure from China, which has said it is not afraid to use force against the protestors in Hong Kong, the activists do not appear to have plans to stop their efforts any time soon.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (BBC) (CNN)

Business

Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout

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Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”


CEO Apologizes

After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.” 

In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors. 

In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”

As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.

“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.

Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.

Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were. 

It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Blizzard Walkout

Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.

Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”

“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”

Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Polygon) (CNBC)

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Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off

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Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart. 


Strike Ends

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”

The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off. 

One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.

The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts. 

Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”

The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement

When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay. 

In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”

While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories. 

During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.” 

It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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