TikTok’s internal documents have revealed that the company tried to suppress content by creators who were deemed as ‘too ugly’ or ‘too poor’, according to a report published by The Intercept. The report comes as TikTok continues to grow in popularity, especially in markets like India, USA, Brazil. In India the app has over 200 million users, according to an earlier estimate, and a new report by Sensor Tower, claimed it was the most downloaded app in India in February 2020, ahead of WhatsApp and Facebook.
But the latest documents published by The Intercept, and The Intercept Brasil, once again raise questions about the issue of censorship on the platform, a charge that the company has repeatedly denied in the past and continues to do so in this case. Here’s what The Intercept report shows and what TikTok has responded in its defence. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is based in China. We have also reached out to TikTok for a statement on the same.
The documents appear to have been written in Chinese and later translated in English and sets guidelines for moderators, regarding which videos should appear in the ‘For You’ section of app, which shows conte that users would like to explore. According to the guidelines, content by “unattractive, poor, or otherwise undesirable users” would not be good for retaining new users, and could decrease this rate. The guidelines note, for videos in which the user “is basically the only focus of the video … if the character’s appearance or the shooting environment is not good, the video will be much less attractive, not worthing [sic] to be recommended to new users.”
The document even goes on to define what sort of characteristics should be kept in mind when deciding whether a video was by someone deemed too unattractive. It uses teams like ‘abnormal body shape’ and ‘ugly facial looks’ along with dwarfism or anyone with a ‘beer belly’ or with too many wrinkles. Further, it says videos shot in slums, rural fields or poor houses should be hidden from new users though “rural beautiful natural scenery could be exempted,” adds the report.
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TikTok spokesperson Josh Gartner said the rules were designed to ‘prevent bullying’ and that they are no longer being used. However, it should be noted that the rules do not mention prevention of bullying. Earlier reports have shown how TikTok guidelines were suppressing videos by members of the LGBTQ community and those who were disabled. It also appears that TikTok had guidelines against ‘ideologically undesirable’ content in livestream videos. Again the company says these guidelines are no longer in place.
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