YouTube is profiting off of pre-roll advertisements on Russian and Chinese propaganda channels that have histories of publishing propaganda, spreading disinformation, and attempting to undermine American democracy.
A limited Media Matters review identified at least 13 Russian and nine Chinese government accounts – labeled by YouTube as “funded” by a government entity or a “public broadcast” – that have pre-roll advertisements running on their channels. We clicked at least 10 videos on each channel to see if a pre-roll advertisement -- those at the beginning of YouTube videos – appeared. And since YouTube has had a problem labeling individual state-sponsored videos that spread misinformation, we reviewed only those videos that carried the “funded” or “public broadcast” label from the platform.
YouTube profits off of ads that are displayed on its platform; it is unclear whether the Russian channels are part of the YouTube Partner Program that provides video creators a cut of the ad revenue (China-based channels are not eligible). Last year, YouTube announced it will run ads on any channel it wants whether or not the channel is part of its YouTube Partner Program.
Many of the monetized propaganda channels found in this review are associated with the RT network (formerly Russia Today). RT and other state-affiliated Russian media outlets are known to actively attempt to undermine American democracy, spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in the West, and instill general divisiveness through their vast network of media projects. In fact, RT had to register as a foreign agent within the United States “after years of accusations that it was a propaganda arm of the Russian government.”
Alongside RT, Russian public broadcasts and other state-funded news shows are riddled with propaganda. As detailed by NPR, Kremlin-run broadcasts tell Russians “exactly what to think” based on what’s best and most convenient for the government.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Russian-state media tends to “inundate viewers with propaganda” with little to no room for those “who question the new patriotic and neo-conservative discourse” found within the landscape. Public broadcast TV channels that upload their shows to YouTube include Sputnik, Russia 1, TV Center, Russia 24, among others. Russia’s state program 60 Minutes also uploads videos to YouTube.
YouTube profits off of these Russian propaganda accounts:
RT in Russian
RT in Spanish
The Big Picture RT
Russia’s 60 Minutes
Disinformation campaigns from the Chinese government are common and have been spotted on various media platforms. Google and YouTube have removed Chinese channels that spread disinformation in the past. However, the company is profiting off of popular state-affiliated channels.
Based on our review, YouTube is profiting off of ads running on the Global Times and China Central Television (CCTV) networks, both of which have been designated by the U.S. State Department as “foreign missions” (meaning they must report all personnel and property holdings to the State Department).
The Global Times is a propaganda-fueled, government-run tabloid that has been described as “China’s Fox News.” The CCTV network is one of China’s “most powerful” television propaganda tools and is at “the spearhead of China’s propaganda efforts in foreign countries.”
These accounts have pre-roll advertisements running on their channel:
CCTV Main Account
CCTV Video News Agency
YouTube should not be profiting off of bad-faith actors who are actively spreading dangerous misinformation and propaganda. The video hosting site must vet the channels they are making money off of before deciding to line its own pockets.