Serikzhan Bilash’ organization was targeted with a usual tactic: multiply false reports and the algorithm will remove the account.
by Massimo Introvigne
Readers of Bitter Winter are familiar with the activities of Kazakh activist Serikzhan Bilash, the founder of an organization called Atajurt that has played a key role in denouncing both the persecution of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang’s transformation through education camps and violations of human rights in Kazakhstan.
Atajurt’s situation is complicated. There are two (and now three) branches of the human rights association Atajurt, two registered and one, led by Bilash, which was refused registration and is critical of the Kazakh government’s attitude towards China. Bilash is critical of the other branches, which have downplayed the horrors vested on ethnic Kazakhs in China
The main tool of Serikzhan Bilash’s “independent Atajurt” organization is its YouTube channel, with thousands of video testimonies, a unique repository used by human rights activists and scholars all over the world. A few days ago, the YouTube channel was shut down. It has since been reinstated, but it remains under sustained attack. Bitter Winter has asked Amantay Bilash, Serikzhan’s brother and the person responsible for the YouTube channel, what exactly happened.
“We have been targeted by both China’s and Kazakhstan’s governments, Amantay explains. The attacks from them never stopped. To close our channel, recently, pro-China groups in Kazakhstan launched an activity of falsely reporting our channel’s videos as containing harassment and cyberbullying.”
We at Bitter Winter are familiar with these tactics, as our accounts on social media are often similarly attacked by Chinese trolls. In this case, the attack was highly professional. “They released videos to teach their supporters how to falsely report our videos by clicking the report button, Amantay explains, and choose the ‘Harassment and Cyberbullying’ button. In the video, they are saying, ‘YouTube is unable to manually verify all of the reports. If many people report it, YouTube will consider it as fact.’”
Basically, Bilash’s enemies rely on the fact that social networks algorithms are not “intelligent.” If many submit complaints against an account, the algorithm perceives it as “against community standards” and shuts its down. Obviously, skilled Chinese and other trolls may easily manipulate this system.
“And it seems to work, Amantay says. We started to receive strikes on video testimonies that don’t contain any harassment and cyberbullying content at all. Although all these videos don’t have any harassment or cyberbullying content, some of our appeals got rejected.”
“The first two strikes were received on the 30th of April, Amantay explains. We were not able to upload any content since then. The initial suspensions were supposed to expire on 28th June, but we received several strikes after that. On 15th of June, we received an email from YouTube indicating that our channel has been removed. We have written an appeal to YouTube. The appeal has been successful and the channel has been reinstated, but our opponents seem to be very well-organized and we expect the attacks to continue.”