This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A YouTube channel that once churned out satirical spoof videos featuring ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has been deleted from the platform, sparking concerns over whether the Chinese government is exploiting the social media giant’s copyright rules.
The RutersXiaoFanQi channel, whose name amalgamates the Chinese word “to humiliate” with that of the news agency Reuters, was unavailable on YouTube at 1300 GMT on Monday.
The takedown comes as Chinese censors grow increasingly concerned about satirical content about Xi Jinping coming from overseas, where students and activists recently demonstrated in solidarity with the “white paper” protests that swept China at the end of 2022, and where social media accounts often post content that would be banned or blocked in China.
It suggests Chinese censors are using YouTube’s copyright infringement reporting system to shut down content they find politically unacceptable, according to a fellow satirist.
An Internet Archive snapshot of the page captured on Feb. 10 showed the most recent upload was a spoof video featuring manipulated news footage of Xi and a satirical song questioning the Chinese leader’s booksmarts, among other satirical comments.
“The new era is here. We’re changing gear and reversing,” the song goes, alongside footage of Xi at the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress in October.
“How long will it take to get from amending the constitution to flat out calling him emperor?” it says, in a reference to the abolition of presidential term limits in 2018 that paved the way for Xi to take an unprecedented third term in office beginning at the party congress.
“A PhD from Tsinghua University, but still at elementary school level,” the lyrics say. “There’s nobody else like Xi Jinping in this world.”
A former participant at the channel who asked to remain anonymous who now runs the YouTube spoof channel @FragileItemsChronicle said @RutersXiaoFanQi had been shut down by YouTube following a number of copyright claims by license-holders of music used in its videos.
“Your YouTube account has been shut down following repeated copyright warnings,” YouTube told the channel according to a screenshot of the notification displayed in @FragileItemsChronicle’s most recent video.
YouTube didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from RFA.
The channel’s producer said Chinese censors are exploiting YouTube’s copyright infringement reporting system to shut down content they find politically unacceptable.
“Those Chinese companies must have been instructed by the government to weaponize copyright claims,” they said.
The YouTuber said RutersXiaoFanQi’s brand of satire targeting Xi Jinping is known as “Insult the Bun,” in a reference to one of Xi’s nicknames, Xi Baozi, which went viral on social media and was later banned following the Chinese leader’s 2013 visit to a regular dumpling house in Beijing.
They said RutersXiaoFanQi had made a number of appeals to executives at YouTube and Google about bids to shut down the channel using copyright strikes, which included complaints about the use of news footage belonging to state broadcaster CCTV.
The appeals didn’t work, despite U.S. copyright law allowing the use of copyright material for the purposes of parody, even in cases where permission has been refused.
In April 2022, YouTube suspended the channel of an Odesa-based Chinese programmer and citizen journalist Wang Jixian, who told Radio Free Asia at the time that his account was likely maliciously reported to the platform by pro-CCP supporters.
“This incident shows us how much the Chinese Communist Party cares about ‘insulting the Bun,'” the YouTuber, who asked for anonymity for fear of political reprisals, said. “A key thing about this kind of satire is that it’s a low-cost way to demolish the party’s authority.”
“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,” they said. “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.”
They said RutersXiaoFanQi was the most influential among the “bun-insulting” channels on YouTube: “They will do everything in their power to shut [it] down.”
Twitter-based satirist @GFWFrog agreed.
“My personal guess is that the Chinese Communist Party once again took advantage of loopholes in the YouTube platform terms and conditions to arrange for coordinated reporting [of copyright infringement] by trolls,” they said.
“The world should do something to prevent Beijing from extending its censorship tentacles outside of China.”
“We need to expose [their tactics] more fully to the general public and to governments around the world.”