A YouTube channel called “RutersXiaoFanQi” vanished from the platform on Monday after years of satirizing Chinese dictator Xi Jinping.
Internet freedom advocates are concerned the channel was taken down by Chinese Communist Party censors who weaponized YouTube’s copyright infringement rules.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) noted on Tuesday that the final video from the channel appears to have been a spoof “news broadcast” that mocked Xi for attempting to become an “emperor” and for claiming honorary university degrees when his actual education is at “elementary school level.”
A former contributor to RutersXiaoFanQi – whose odd name mashes a misspelled “Reuters” together with a Chinese phrase that means “humiliation” – told RFA the channel was killed by claims it used copyrighted music in its video clips.
An active member of RutersXiaoFanQi said the shutdown was a case of Chinese censors exploiting YouTube’s system for automatically shutting down channels that receive too many complaints, a tactic China has used in the past.
“Those Chinese companies must have been instructed by the government to weaponize copyright claims,” the source said, suggesting Chinese state media might also have filed bogus complaints because the videos borrowed some of their footage. Such satirical manipulations would not violate American copyright law, but they might be enough to trigger a YouTube ban.
The Chinese Communist Party is notoriously vigorous about shutting down satire, especially insults against Xi because it fears humorous videos are highly effective at spreading dissident ideas.
“A key thing about this kind of satire is that it’s a low-cost way to demolish the party’s authority,” RFA’s correspondent from RutersXiaoFanQi explained. “A short video that makes just three points is obviously going to attract more viewers than a long book about the evil done by the party.”
“These videos can attack the evil done under the Chinese Communist Party in a funny way, and in a short period of time, which is very harmful to the party’s stability maintenance regime,” the anonymous source said.
Another online satirist known as @GFWFrog on Twitter told RFA the free world should “do something to prevent Beijing from extending its censorship tentacles outside of China.”
The Chinese Communist Party has a very thin skin when it comes to jocularity that is not approved by the Politburo. Mockery of Xi Jinping can get satirists arrested with remarkable speed, usually on charges that their insults could “create disturbances” or “incite subversion.” The Party officially classifies puns as “misinformation.” Cartoon bears have been exiled because they look like Xi.
When Chinese protesters sarcastically waved blank sheets of paper as symbols of protest, daring the authorities to arrest them for saying nothing, the authorities took them up on the challenge. Even things as simple and popular as steamed buns have been targeted by Chinese Communist censors because they became a symbol of mocking Xi Jinping for pretending to be an ordinary citizen in touch with the common man.
Censorship on YouTube and other American social media platforms is a major topic of controversy, even without the Chinese Communist Party slipping in to destroy accounts it does not like. YouTube’s departing CEO, Susan Wojcicki, was friendly to speech control efforts during the pandemic, and her successor, Neal Mohan, will be even worse, if his past enthusiasm for silencing all but the most “authoritative” voices is anything to go by.