The video sharing app shadow banned words and phrases including ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, and ‘transgender’
Another day, another story of TikTok censoring minorities on its platform. In case you haven’t been keeping up, the Chinese-owned app previously banned pro-LGBTQ+ content, blocked a user who criticised China, and suppressed posts by those deemed “ugly”, poor, or disabled. TikTok has also been accused of penalising Black creators.
Now, the app has admitted that it restricted several LGBTQ+ hashtags, including “gay”, “lesbian”, and “transgender”. As exposed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), TikTok shadow banned the hashtags in languages including Russian, Estonia, Bosnian, and Arabic, with global users affected no matter what country they live in.
‘Shadow banning’ (also sometimes known as stealth banning and ghost banning) is when a user is able to post as normal, but their content is blocked or partially blocked and hidden from the community. It’s a practice employed by platforms like Instagram to suppress anything it deems sexual – including a recent photo of Nyome Nicholas-Williams, which saw the platform accused of racism and fat phobia.
“TikTok users posting videos with these hashtags are given the impression their posts are just as searchable as posts by other users, but in fact they aren’t,” the report said. “In practice, most of these hashtags are categorised in TikTok’s code in the same way that terrorist groups, illicit substances, and swear words are treated on the platform.”
A key finding: Hashtags related to LGBTQ+ issues are suppressed on the platform in at least 8 languages.— 💯Fergus Ryan (@fryan) September 8, 2020
Eg: When Russian-speaking users—citizens and non-citizens alike—search the app for #гей (#Gay), they’re met with a totally blank hashtag search result page. pic.twitter.com/rwFD48mD0F
As reported by Pink News, a TikTok spokesperson denied that the app was practising censorship, instead insisting that the shadow ban was a “localised” approach to moderation. They said that some terms were restricted due to local laws, while “other terms were restricted because they were primarily used when looking for pornographic content”.
The spokesperson admitted that some terms were “incorrectly moderated” and that a review into these errors is taking place. They continued: “We want to be crystal clear that TikTok strongly supports our LGBTQ+ creators around the world and is proud that LGBTQ+ content is among the most popular category on the platform with billions of views.”
In August, Donald Trump announced that he would be banning TikTok in the US over concerns about data security – something that’s due to come into effect from tomorrow (September 15). At the end of last month, TikTok filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming the ban is unconstitutional.
According to Bloomberg, TikTok won’t just go dark overnight. Unlike in India, where the ban meant users were immediately blocked from using the app, the US doesn’t afford the president the authority to close down a social media site, meaning TikTok will still stay on people’s phones after the deadline passes.
Look back at Dazed’s list of what we’ll miss about TikTok here.