After an investigation in September revealed that TikTok’s moderation guidelines resulted in pro-LGBTQ+ content being banned from the app, the social media app is under fire again after it admitted to a set of policies that had suppressed the reach of content of users “vulnerable to cyberbullying”.
Listing examples of users “susceptible to bullying or harassment”, the misguided policy listed people with autism, facial disfigurement, Down syndrome, and “disabled people or people with some facial problems such as birthmark, slight squint, etc”.
German site Netzpolitik has revealed that TikTok asked moderators to watch 15-second videos to decide if the creator looked like the type of person other people might bully. Moderators were then instructed to flag these “vulnerable users” to stop their videos from being shown to audiences outside their home countries and, in some cases, present their videos from showing up on other people’s feeds. A list of users by Netzpolitik included people whose bios included hastags like #disabled and #fatwoman, or had a rainbow and other LGBTQ+ identifiers.
Users were suppressed in various forms – some were kept off of the popular “For You” feed, while others were restricted from being seen outside of their native countries.
Among those who found their content has been hidden was Miss_Anni21, a 21-year-old, self-described fat women with 23,000 followers. She told Netzpolitik the actions was “discriminatory” and “inhuman”.
TikTok told NetzPolitik: “This approach was never intended to be a long-term solution” and said the policies were no longer in use. TikTok also said, “while the intention was good, the approach was wrong and we have long since changed the earlier policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections’.”
Social media sites often have strict nudity policies – one that we've seen has significantly affected sex-positive content creators and sex workers – and it remains hugely concerning to think that a platform so popular among young people is censoring content like this.
TikTok was recently forced to apologise after blocking 17-year-old Feroza Aziz’s account, after she posted a video criticising China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. The app has been used across the political spectrum – from supporting teachers strikes to calling for gun control.