On Monday of last week, Malaysian musician Namewee (Wee Meng Chee, 黃明志) learned that his YouTube account had been hacked and all of its content deleted. His account, created in 2006, had 3.27 million subscribers and over 1,000 videos, which had collectively received over 1.4 billion views. The title of his channel was also changed to a Russian-language obscenity. Responding to the hack in a defiant video posted on his Facebook account, Namewee reiterated his support for Ukraine and cursed the hacker(s). While the origin of the hack remains unknown, it brings renewed attention to the censorship of voices critical of the CCP and of China’s political alignment with Russia in the war against Ukraine.
The attack likely targeted Namewee for his outspokenness against censorship, particularly in China. As he wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the hack, “I was mentally prepared for this day long ago … what goes around, comes around. Over the years, I really have offended too many people. The fact that it took 13 years for something like this to happen means it’s already long overdue, especially since the launch of ‘Fragile’ last year.” Last October, Namewee and Kimberley Chen released “Fragile,” a song mocking the sensitivity of nationalist “little pinks” and Xi Jinping. The song received 20 million views in two weeks and was quickly blocked in China, along with Namewee and Chen’s music and online accounts. (“Fragile” was one of CDT’s Top-10 Censored Words of 2021.) A month later, Namewee released “The Wall,” a song subtly critiquing the Great Firewall.
By Wednesday, YouTube had restored his account, including all of its lost content. Namewee posted on Facebook: “Namewee’s YouTube Account is BACK! Thank you to everyone who has helped us and supporting us! We will keep creating our music/videos and keep voicing out for freedom!” CDT Chinese collected netizen comments on the hacking of Namewee’s account:
o0NXkDxDiMLVK2q：The “fragile-hearted” wreak their revenge.
freelysiumeu：Most likely it was done by the gangster CCP’s little red hackers. The Russians aren’t that “fragile.”
UIMfy8k02PBLHHz：With Daddy’s [Russia’s] help.
Moranjianghe：Namewee didn’t offend the Russians too, did he?
Xiaoju777：They keep saying that our country needs to be strong and confident, that we’re a great and powerful nation, but then they throw a big tantrum when someone says a few words not to their liking. It’s so petty.
YeY6slVaHwjqOIJ：The more they do this sort of thing, the more it proves they’re “fragile.” [Source]
Another recently targeted YouTube account is that of Wang Jixian, a Chinese national who has been based in Odessa, Ukraine for the past four years. After several weeks of reporting on the war through daily vlogs, often with content that challenged Chinese government narratives, his YouTube account was abruptly suspended on March 31. Yitong Wu, Chingman and Wang Yun from Radio Free Asia described Wang’s reaction to the suspension:
YouTube told Wang that his account had been suspended for posting “violent content” in his March 28 video, ignoring an appeal submitted by Wang.
“I find this inexplicable,” Wang told RFA. “YouTube claims that my account was reported for violent content, which violates the rules, but where is the violence? I didn’t include photos [of violence] in my video.”
“This was a front-line war report … In my appeal, I asked them to say which video or photos weren’t allowed, but within five minutes of my submitting the appeal, YouTube sent its final decision, which was that my account has been suspended for a week,” he said.
Wang said he didn’t blame YouTube, but the “ulterior motives” of whoever reported him.
[…] Wang said his suspension came after he was targeted by multiple messages warning him “don’t provoke the Chinese government,” and “don’t be too aggressive with your comments.” [Source]
Wang’s YouTube channel had over one hundred thousand subscribers and had garnered over seven million views. His videos documenting his lived experience of the war and the brutality of the Russian attacks often contradicted coverage from Chinese state media, which has largely amplified pro-Russian narratives and disinformation. As Jessie Yeung and Yong Xiong reported for CNN, Wang’s videos resulted in a backlash from the Chinese government and from many on Chinese social media:
“You don’t need this Chinese passport anymore, you have already forgotten which country you are from,” one popular comment on Douyin read. “The official position of the country should be the position of all Chinese people.”
[…] He said [a Chinese embassy staff member] reached out to him recently, insinuating Wang was being paid to post his videos, and asking: “Who sent you?” When Wang insisted he wasn’t doing it for money, the staffer replied: “Your current behavior is not in line with national interests. I want to cut off relations with you, let’s block each other.”
That “really hurt my heart,” Wang said.
[…] Chinese censors have also cracked down on his videos online, he said. [… Only] about 80% of his videos have been left on WeChat, and fewer than 20% on Douyin.
[…] After speaking with CNN, his Chinese social media accounts were banned, leaving him unable to contact his family back home. [Source]
Wang’s YouTube account was restored last week, but his WeChat account has been permanently deleted. “What are you scared of? Is my voice really that terrifying?” he asked in a video reacting to the deletion of his WeChat account. Other online media groups outside of China have been targeted in similar “malicious reporting” attacks that prompted platforms to suspend their accounts. On April 2, the Twitter account of The Great Translation Movement, an anonymous group that seeks to expose pro-CCP propaganda via translation, was suspended before being restored the next day. Much of the group’s attention has focused on pro-Russian and pro-war online discourse on Chinese social media. In response to the reporting attack, the group warned little pinks: “Stop taking advantage of the free world to persecute our freedom of speech.” CDT’s YouTube account was also suspended for several days in January after a similar “mass reporting” attack.
— Byron Wan (@Byron_Wan) April 3, 2022
Within China, little pinks’ reporting of social media accounts that run counter to nationalist narratives is a classic tactic of online censorship. Sharpening this tactic in April of last year, the Cyberspace Administration of China launched a new “historical nihilism” hotline to allow netizens to report on online activity that spreads unapproved content about history, in a “hope that the majority of Internet users will actively play their part in supervising society … and enthusiastically report harmful information.” In an article about the hotline for Quartz last year, Jane Li described the evolution of online smear campaigns by regular Chinese users:
While in the past the Party has cultivated paid internet armies and requir[ed] tech companies to use a mix of employees and automation for censorship, it’s increasingly relying on regular users to shape discourse online by encouraging them to join smear campaigns against activists and dissidents.
Most recently patriotic internet users have helped wage a consumer boycott against foreign companies who issued public stances about Xinjiang, where China is accused of mass human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic minority. Still, as the news outlet Protocol this week documented in its examination of a sexist campaign to troll researcher Vicky Xu, who co-authored reports on Chinese factory use of forced Uyghur labor for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, even seemingly spontaneous waves of abuse get a nudge from state-linked online accounts. [Source]