Cutting corners: A new report details how TikTok's moderators are instructed to censor videos which may not be favorable to the Chinese government. ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of TikTok, has numerous content policies which have been used to police the platform according to policies desired by the local government.
Documents shared with The Guardian show TikTok is censoring posts relating to Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, Hong Kong protests, banned religious groups, and more. Content infringement is divided into two parts: "violations" which are removed from the site, and "visible to self" which are posts that remain on the site, but are not distributed to other users through the algorithm.
The policies are overly broad such that they seem generic and unassuming, but are enforced in such a way that they allow the ban of certain controversial issues. For example, a ban on "demonization or distortion of local or other countries' history" is used to remove content on the Tiananmen Square Massacre. A ban on "highly controversial topic such as separatism" is used to ban content on Tibet and Taiwan. There are many examples of this process in the moderator guideline documents
Posts about the previous issues were classified in the less severe "visible to self" category. TikTok treats Religious posts promoting groups like Falun Gong more severely and bans posters. The Guardian also points out how posts regarding 20 prominent political leaders are not allowed, but Xi Jinping is not included in the list.
In response to the allegations, ByteDance stated that the content policy document has been retired and that it wasn't designed to reference specific issues. They claim this earlier approach was blunt and not scalable to TikTok's global audience. Their current approach is supposedly more localized with region specific moderators.