The Chinese-owned TikTok, which is now one of the most downloaded short-form video apps has purportedly censored videos related to Hong Kong’s independence. Another issue is the ownership, TikTok’s parent firm ByteDance is Beijing headquartered, and faced accusations of compliance with the Chinese Government, same happened to WeChat (Tencent) and Huawei. The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, shared some documents revealing that TikTok’s policy guidelines instruct its moderators to censor topics involving pro- LGBT content and Hong Kong protests.
TikTok is Under Fire
In a recent speech at Georgetown University, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg attacked TikTok while defending his company’s light regulation of speech and political ads. He asserted that social media has unlocked transformative channels of speech that should be kept open. Considering regional censorship as worldwide censorship at a platform level, few US senators have written a letter to the acting Director of National Intelligence citing the national security threat posed by TikTok and various Chinese owned platforms operative in the country. Over 80 million users in America have download TikTok and no one really knows how the content related to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong is moderated.
The Guardian reported that TikTok’s censorship policy is very generic and broad; but implemented that in a manner that it permits the prohibition of various controversial issues. For instance, TikTok had banned “Demonization or misrepresentation of local or other nations’ historical accounts”, the same was used to delete content related to Tiananmen Square Massacre. Similarly, “Separatism” has been labeled as a highly provocative topic and used to interdict content on Tibet and Taiwan.
The newspaper also highlighted that the Chinese-owned social media darling strictly treats and bans religious posts. Posts related to past issues were categorized in the less severe group. The Guardian revealed that content related to around 20 political leaders was banned, and Xi Jinping was excluded from that list.
ByteDance Denied Allegations
In a recent response, the company clarified its US-based team leads the content moderation policies, and no foreign government can influence it. ByteDance also claimed that it did not remove any video on Hong Kong’s protests or restricted such content, and its old guidelines are outdated as these were not developed to reference specific issues and are not used anymore. The current policy is rather localized with region specific moderation.