TikTok, the Chinese app on which hundreds of millions of users from all corners of the world share music videos, has allegedly instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users that are deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform.
This is according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.
These same documents also show that moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok live streams and mete out punishments like bans for those who have harmed ‘national honour’ or mention ‘stage organs’, such as the police, in broadcasts.
The Intercept states that the previously unreported Chinese policy documents, as well as conversations with multiple sources familiar with TikTok’s censorship activities, shed light on new details about the company’s efforts to enforce rigid constraints across its 800 million or so monthly users.
TikTok, which all-the-while attempts to bolster its image as a global paragon of self-expression and wanton creativity, keenly controls the content on its platform to achieve fast and critical growth while simultaneously discouraging political dissent with the heavy-handed fervour often seen in its home of China.
Livestreamed military movements and natural disasters, as well as videos ‘defaming civil servants’ and other material that might threaten national security, have been suppressed alongside videos showing rural poverty, slums, beer bellies, and crooked smiles. One document goes so far as to instruct moderators to scan uploads for cracked wells and ‘disreputable decorations’ in the homes of users. If found, these users will be punished with artificially narrowed audiences.
“Abnormal body shape, chubby, an obvious beer belly, obese, or too thin (not limited to: dwarf, acromegaly),” reads the document explaining which users are to be shied away from. “Ugly facial looks (not limited to: disformatted face, fangs, lack of front teeth, senior people with too many wrinkles, obvious facial scars) or facial deformities (not limited to: eye disorders, crooked mouth disease, and other disabilities),” it continues.
The reason given against these users is that if the users are the main focus of the video and if their appearance or environment isn’t up to TikTok standards, the videos will not be worth recommending to new users.
TikTok spokesperson, Josh Gartner told The Intercept that most of the Livestream guidelines in the documents are either no longer in place, or have never been in place. However, he would not provide specifics.
Regarding policies of suppressing those deemed unattractive, disabled or poor, Gartner states that the rules “represented an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying, but are no longer in place, and were already out of use when The Intercept obtained them.”
It is notable that sources indicate that both sets of policies were in use throughout at least late 2019 and that the Livestream policy was created in 2019. Gartner would also not explain why a document aimed at “preventing bullying” would make no mention of bullying, or why the justification is attracting new users instead of protecting existing ones.
Edited by Luis Monzon
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