The Chinese government may have been tweaking the search results on massive social media apps, according to a new study.
This concern was raised after experts noticed that Google and YouTube often give Chinese state propaganda publishers high rankings in searches on controversial political topics.
Some topics include the abuse of Muslims in Xinjiang and conspiracy theories that the coronavirus originated in a military lab in the United States.
Chinese Propaganda Tops Google Searches
According to the report published on Friday, May 27, by the Brookings Institute and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Chinese state sources also rank highly on Bing searches about controversial issues.
The researchers said that China had exploited the search engine results on COVID-19 and Xinjiang, two geopolitically salient subjects to Beijing.
The news searchers on Google and Bing for Xinjiang, the region in China where more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims are currently locked up and tortured, have included a Chinese state-backed source within the top ten results in 88% of searches.
Meanwhile, on YouTube, around 98% of Xinjiang searchers showed a Chinese government-supported video in the top ten results, the study pointed out. The researchers conducted the study by searching the terms for four months.
A Google spokesperson said in an interview with New York Post that Google actively works to combat coordinated influence and censorship operations while also protecting access to information and free expression online.
The spokesperson added that third-party research shows that Google Search consistently returns high-quality results, especially compared to other search engines.
Aside from denying abusing Muslims in Xinjiang, Chinese state media outlets have also aggressively pushed unfounded theories that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a military lab in the United States.
A lot of these conspiracy theories center around a base in Maryland called Fort Detrick that previously hosted the US biological weapons program.
On YouTube, when “Fort Detrick” is typed in, an average of five Chinese state-sponsored videos showed up within the top 10 results, according to the researchers.
The news searches for United 731, which is another term related to the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a US lab, are also reportedly full of Chinese state-sponsored results.
Google said that it gives its users disclaimers on YouTube with context about sources of information, including telling them when governments sponsor the media outlets.
Chinese Media Backing Up Russia
While the researchers of the study did not examine the search results connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they argued that the online reach of Chinese state sources is troubling because they are channeling Russia’s talking points to audiences around the world.
Microsoft, on the other hand, told The Wall Street Journal that it is reviewing the study and is looking for ways to improve its platforms.
While both Google and YouTube are blocked in China, Microsoft still operates a Chinese version of Bing that censors result at the government’s request. It also has thousands of workers in the country.
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Written by Sophie Webster
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