YouTube has removed 19 channels that were promoting anti-US narratives.

A widespread campaign, referred to as ‘Shadow Play’ by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), has exploited Synthesia, a British AI company, to create convincing avatars in video essays promoting pro-China and anti-US narratives. The campaign involves at least 30 YouTube channels, identified by ASPI, and comprises over 4,500 videos that have accumulated 120 million views. The narratives promoted include China’s efforts to “win the US-China technology war” amid US sanctions, with a particular focus on Chinese and US companies, featuring content that is pro-Huawei and anti-Apple.

The campaign’s capability to gather and reach a substantial global audience, with the potential to covertly influence public opinion on the topics at hand, is deemed concerning, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). In response to these findings, YouTube has taken down 19 channels associated with the ‘Shadow Play’ network, citing inauthentic behavior and spam as the reasons for their removal.

The campaign strategically employs AI to disseminate persuasive messages, utilizing a synthetic media generation company, Synthesia, to create lifelike avatars featured in the videos.

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the campaign is likely orchestrated by a Mandarin-speaking actor. ASPI suggests that the operator behind this network could be a commercial entity acting under some level of state direction, funding, or encouragement.

The campaign promotes six key narratives:

  1. China and Russia are responsible, capable players in geopolitics and current world events.
  2. China is prevailing in the US-China tech war and overcoming US sanctions.
  3. China is highly competent and trustworthy in building massive infrastructure projects.
  4. China is succeeding in the rare earths, critical minerals, and electric vehicles competition.
  5. The US economy is weak, and the US dollar is no longer the world’s strongest currency.
  6. The US is on a path toward collapse, and its alliance partnerships are disintegrating.

The distinctiveness of this campaign lies in its fusion of video essays and AI tools. Video essays, a prevalent form of medium-length YouTube content, feature a narrator presenting an argument through a voiceover, accompanied by supporting visuals on the screen. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), this campaign showcases a trend where threat actors are progressively embracing off-the-shelf video editing and generative AI technology tools. These tools enable the production of compelling and persuasive content at scale, facilitating the building of audiences on social media platforms.

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