YouTube Strips Ad Revenue From Channel for Video on Disappeared Chinese Tennis Star

Site says the report on Peng Shuai 'isn't suitable for all advertisers'

Tennis star Peng Shuai in 2014 / Getty Images
November 19, 2021

YouTube stripped ad revenue from a news show for posting a video on the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, the latest example of big tech's kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party.

The site blocked ads from running before the video, which outlined Peng's allegations that a senior CCP official raped her. YouTube said the video "isn't suitable for all advertisers," a likely nod to advertisers with ties to China. YouTube frequently "demonetizes" videos that break the site's rules, a move that prevents creators from making money off their videos.

Google, which owns YouTube, is not the only big tech company to carefully monitor content that could be critical of China. LinkedIn has censored British and American critics of the CCP and recently overhauled its LinkedIn China product to remove user posts. Until earlier this year, Facebook removed posts that alleged that COVID-19 came from a Chinese laboratory. Microsoft this year has deepened its collaboration with the Chinese government. Apple spent $90,000 to lobby against a bill that would punish companies that use Chinese slave labor.

YouTube's automated review system immediately flagged the video, which was shared by Breaking Points with Krystal and Saagar, an online news show. Breaking Points cohost Saagar Enjeti told the Washington Free Beacon that YouTube might have flagged the video because its title contains the word rape.

YouTube has blamed its automated content moderation system for incorrectly removing videos. But when Breaking Points on Friday appealed for a manual review, YouTube upheld the decision. Enjeti said that manual reviews have always restored content that YouTube automatically flagged. He also noted that this demonetization is the first time YouTube has interfered with the show's China-related content.

"It's possible that this could be the result of influence from the CCP," Enjeti told the Free Beacon. "Or, at the very least, YouTube has to understand advertisers like Nike and other massive multinationals may be worried" about running ads alongside stories critical of the regime. Enjeti said the incident highlights how much power tech companies have to determine what news is appropriate.

Reached for comment, a YouTube spokesman said the video "was never demonetized," but placed in a category of flagged content that third-parties must opt in to advertise on. The spokesman did not say how many advertisers choose to run ads on videos YouTube has flagged as sensitive.

Peng, who in 2011 ranked as the 14th greatest female tennis player in the world, has not been heard from since she made the rape allegation against former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli. Chinese state media on Wednesday released a statement they said was from Peng, recanting her accusations. Human rights observers say the statement was likely fabricated or forced and demanded proof that Peng is not being detained.

Update Nov. 22, 3:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to mention advertisers that have ties to China and to reflect YouTube's response to a Free Beacon inquiry.