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TikTok, Ziggi Tyler
Via TikTok, @ziggityler / Unsplash

TikTok responds to claims that its algorithm censors BLM-related content

The app has been criticised for banning Black-related language in users’ bios, while it seemingly overlooks phrases related to white supremacy

TikTok has been called out for alleged bias against its Black users, after one TikToker – the Black influencer and comedian Ziggi Tyler (@ziggityler) – shared videos about updating his bio on the app earlier this week.

In a screen recording posted to the app, Tyler demonstrates that it gives him an “inappropriate content” warning when he includes selected words in his bio for the Creator Marketplace, which is TikTok’s “official platform for brand and creator collaborations”. Among the blocked words that he tests are “Black Lives Matter”, “Black people”, “Black success”, and “pro-Black”. 

As Tyler notes: “Anything Black-related is inappropriate content.” However, when he includes phrases such as “pro-white”, and even “white supremacy”, the bio isn’t flagged. The app also doesn’t appear to block declarations such as “I am a neo nazi” or “I am anti Semitic (sic)”.

“White people can get on here and call me the N-word, and make videos about violent extremism,” says Tyler in another video. “But I can’t do anything. We can’t do anything.”

Tyler, who has more than 370,000 followers on TikTok, is now redirecting those fans to his Instagram and YouTube content, saying that he’s “done” with TikTok’s alleged bias against Black people and other people of colour.

Responding to Tyler’s claims in a statement via Forbes, the platform states that the content moderation flaw is down to a faulty AI, rather than the app’s policy. “Our TikTok Creator Marketplace protections, which flag phrases typically associated with hate speech, were erroneously set to flag phrases without respect to word order,” says a TikTok spokesperson.

Giving an example of how the protections could lead to the apparent censorship of Black voices, they note that Tyler also included the word “audience” in his bio, and that the AI would pick out the letters “die” in combination with the word “Black”, interpreting it as an anti-Black phrase.

“We recognize and apologize for how frustrating this was to experience,” the spokesperson adds.


##greenscreenvideo I’m going live in 30 minutes to answer questions. Y’all need to get this message out. Please. ##fypシ ##fyp ##wrong ##justice

♬ original sound - Ziggi Tyler

This isn’t the first time TikTok has been accused of censoring its Black creators, however. In May 2020, users also protested what they claimed was the unfair censorship and unbalanced promotion of Black creators, in a platform-wide boycott.

The same month, TikTok admitted that a technical glitch discouraged users from taking part in the conversation surrounding BLM and George Floyd, and misrepresented the outpouring of solidarity from other users and activists.

More recently, in June this year, Black users refused to create dances to Megan Thee Stallion’s song “Thot Shit”, in order to draw attention to the widespread co-opting of their content by white creators, and the work they contribute to the app that often goes unacknowledged.

Watch Ziggi Tyler share examples of the platform’s alleged bias in the video below.