Representative Jim Banks (R., Ind.) sent a letter to Google on Tuesday asking that the tech giant explain why YouTube comments mentioning the Chinese Communist Party’s internet propaganda division Wumao (五毛) have been automatically deleted.
The revelation, which was mentioned Monday by Palmer Luckey, an American entrepreneur who founded Oculus VR, drew a number of other confirmations from Twitter users after Luckey revealed that “YouTube has deleted every comment I ever made about the Wumao (五毛).”
In a statement to National Review, a YouTube spokesperson said the company was “investigating” the issue, saying the situation “appears to be an error in our enforcement systems.” YouTube is currently blocked in China, and The Verge found complaints relating to the issue dating back to October 2019.
Wumao, commonly referred to as the “50-Cent Party” — a reference to a 2010 editorial in the state-run Global Times that said commenters are paid 50 cents per post — stands for internet commentators who are hired by Chinese authorities to manipulate public opinion to favor the Communist Party.
An April 2017 paper published by U.S. researchers confirmed the project’s existence, and found that the “massive secret operation” involves the production of approximately 488 million fabricated social media posts per year to “regularly distract the public and change the subject.”
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by National Review, Banks cites reports of Wumao’s influence in helping elect a pro-China mayor in Taiwan last year, as well as Google’s own “Project Dragonfly” — a censored version of Google’s search engine designed specifically for the Chinese market. Google’s vice president of public policy Karan Bhatia told Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year that the company had “terminated” Dragonfly after the Intercept leaked news of its development in 2018.
“It’s my understanding the project was ultimately abandoned because of internal opposition at Google,” Banks writes. “As an American company that enjoys protections under the U.S. Constitution, one would expect they’d seek to extend the spirit of the First Amendment to their online platforms, which includes criticism of government and public figures, so as to hold them accountable.”
Banks, a member of the House GOP’s newly-minted “China Task Force,” also points to Google’s protections under Section 230, which allows platforms to not be held responsible for third-party posts, as further proof of hypocrisy.
“Tech companies claim not to have the resources block this type of speech on their platforms. Therefore, they shouldn’t be held criminally liable for it. But examples like this one, where American tech companies are utilizing Chinese Communist-style censorship practices dramatically undermine that argument,” Banks stated.