TikTok has admitted it adopted a set of policies to suppress the content of ‘vulnerable’ creators. TikTok says the policy was to prevent cyberbullying but hints at censorship.
Moderators for the app were asked to watch 15-second videos to determine if the creator might be bullied. If so, moderators were instructed to add flags to the accounts of these users.
The flags would stop their videos from being shown to audiences outside of their home countries. In some cases, the flags would stop the content from appearing in other users’ feeds.
A German website obtained a list of people who were considered vulnerable by moderators. The list includes people with disabilities, fat people, LGBTQ people, autism spectrum people, or anyone who used rainbow flags in their profile.
A spokesperson for TikTok said the approach was never intended to be a long term solution and that the policies are no longer in use.
“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 protection.”
The policies were still in place as of September of this year. We reported on instances of LGBT suppression on TikTok back then. It seems the net was cast wider than initially believed in terms of censorship.
Online harassment continues to be a problem for many young people. A study in Boston found that students with disabilities were 1.8 times more likely to be bullied than others.
But that same study found that these students received more support on social media and a chance to connect with others like them.
TikTok’s blanket policy of removal is definitely not the best approach to cyberbullying. Pre-emptively removing people before they get bullied is just another path down censorship. Not allowing disabled users to use a platform because they might be bullied is outrageous. Imagine not hiring a person because they use a wheelchair to get around.