Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been particularly looking to use YouTube to influence Western audiences, building various channels in the app and seeding them with pro-China content. There’s currently only limited information available about the group’s intentions, but Google recently published a new overview of its ongoing efforts called ‘DRAGONBRIDGE’.
As per Google:
“In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.”
Pinning The Dragon
Dragonbridge is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations Google has detected over the past year. At the same time, Google also notes that it has been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence by snuffing out its content before they even get seen.
The scale of the operation is noteworthy too, with Dragonbridge having created over 10,000 accounts, including tens of thousands of YouTube channels – not single video uploads, but entire channels, which is a titanic amount of work. Productivity-wise, this group certainly can fuel such demanding operations, but for what? What’s their end goal?
The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that Dragonbridge potentially has the support of the Chinese Government as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches through Social Media apps. At the scale at which Dragonbridge does it, it’s quite concerning. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have already been targeted, and it could be that their activity on them has reached similar levels, all while remaining undetected. This wouldn’t bode well for TikTok at all, given how it also stands as a likely candidate for boosting the same and is already under intense scrutiny from various US regulators and authorities.
TikTok is already getting flanked left and right by various US states, banning it on government-owned devices. Programs like Dragonbridge don’t make things any better, for TikTok and for everyone. It does seem like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they gain notable traction, it’s also likely that this is only one element of a larger push. Through collective action, such pushes can hopefully be mitigated, limiting the impact, and securing online privacy.