Google and YouTube often find Chinese state propaganda outlets ranking high in searches on hot-button political issues – including denials of abuse of Muslims in Xinjiang and conspiracy theories of the origins of the coronavirus in a US military laboratory, according to a new study. Huh.
Chinese state sources also rank highly on Microsoft Bing searches about controversial issues, according to reports published Friday by the Brookings Institute and the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
“China has exploited search engine results on Xinjiang and COVID-19, two topics that are geopolitically prominent for Beijing,” the researchers said.
News searches on Google and Bing for “Xinjiang” – the Chinese region where China has gunned down an estimated one million Uighurs and other Muslims as a genocide – included a Chinese state-backed source in the top 10. According to the study, 88% of searches are results.
The study noted that on YouTube, 98% of searches from Xinjiang showed a Chinese government-backed video in the top 10 results. The researchers conducted the study by searching for words over a period of 120 days.
“Google actively works to counter coordinated influence and censorship operations, as well as protect information and free expression online,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. “Third-party research shows that Google Search consistently delivers high quality results, especially compared to other search engines.”
In addition to refusing to abuse Muslims in Xinjiang, Chinese state media outlets have also aggressively pushed unfounded theories that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a US military laboratory. Many of these centers around a base in Maryland called Fort Detrick, which previously hosted the US biological weapons program.
In a search for “Fort Detrick” on YouTube, an average of five Chinese state-sponsored videos appeared in the top 10 results, the researchers said. News searches for “unit 731”, another term related to the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a US laboratory, reportedly filled with Chinese state-sponsored results.
Google said it gives users a disclaimer on YouTube regarding sources of information, including telling users that the media outlets are sponsored by governments.
While the researchers did not examine search results related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they argued that online access to Chinese state sources is troubling because they are “broadcasting Kremlin talking points to audiences around the world.”
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment, but told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the study, that it is reviewing the study and is always trying to improve.
While Google Search and YouTube are blocked in China, Microsoft operates a Chinese version of Bing that censors results at the request of the government. It also has thousands of corporate employees in the country.