TikTok today released a new set of safety videos designed to playfully inform users about the app’s privacy controls and other features — like how to filter comments or report inappropriate behavior, among other things. One video also addresses TikTok’s goal of creating a “positive” social media environment, where creativity is celebrated and harassment is banned.
This particular value — that TikTok is for “fun” — is cited whenever the Beijing-based company is pressured about the app’s censorship activity. Today, TikTok hides under claims that it’s all about being a place for lighthearted, positive behavior. But in reality, it had been censoring topics China doesn’t want its citizens to know about — like the Hong Kong protests, for example. Meanwhile, it doesn’t appear to take action on political issues in the U.S., where hashtags like #dumptrump or #maga have millions of views.
To figure out its approach to moderation, TikTok recently hired corporate law firm K&L Gates to advise it on how to create policies that won’t have it coming under the eye of U.S. regulators.
In the meantime, TikTok is tackling the job of crafting the sort of community it wants through these instructive videos. But it’s not just issuing its commands from the top-down — TikTok partners with its own creators to participate in the videos and then promote them to fans. The first set of videos, released in February, featured a dozen TikTok creators, for example.
This time around, the company has pulled in a dozen more, including: @nathanpiland, @d_damodel, @juniortvine, @Stevenmckell, @supershaund, @ourfire, @thedawndishsoap, @katjaglieson, @mahoganylox, @chanydakota, @shreksdumpster and @christinebarger.
This is a much different approach to community-setting, compared with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Those platforms took years before they addressed users’ basic needs for privacy, security and anti-harassment features, like filtering comments, blocking and muting, and more. In the meantime, social media became a haven for trolls and abuse.
TikTok is approaching the problem from a different standpoint — by consciously creating a community where users are knowledgable and feel empowered to kick out the bad elements from disrupting their fun.
The only problem is that TikTok’s definition of what’s “fun” and appropriate has a political bent.
Creativity and art aren’t only meant for expressing positive sentiments. And given that TikTok was enforcing China’s censorship of topics like Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong and Taiwan to its more than 500 million global monthly users, it wouldn’t be a leap to find the company one day censoring all sorts of political speech and other social issues — effectively becoming a tool for China to spread its government’s views to the wider world. And that’s far less fun.
TikTok reiterated its comment that U.S. moderation is handled by a U.S. team:
Our content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government. The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there. To be clear: We do not remove videos based on the presence of Hong Kong protest content.
We and others had searched Hong Kong and related hashtags prior to today in the app and found, as The Washington Post did, “barely a hint of unrest in sight.” TikTok says several hashtags will now show that sort of content, like #freehongkong or #hongkongprotest, for example. But these two have views in the tens of thousands. Meanwhile, U.S. political hashtags have hundreds of millions of views, by comparison… as most high-profile topics do.