TikTok hires former US congressmen to review content policies amid scrutiny

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TikTok will hire two former US congressmen as part of an external team to review its content moderation policies, including child safety, hate speech, misinformation, and bullying, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The popular short video-sharing platform, owned by Beijing-based Bytedance, is stepping up efforts to adjust content policies amid scrutiny from US regulators and Western media about whether it censors content to appease the Chinese government.

  • Bytedance has completely separated the account systems and content access for TikTok and domestic counterpart Douyin to free the company from any potential breaches of China’s internet controls and to provide international users with a relatively censorship-free platform.

Details: The company will hire an external group from the K&L Gates LLP law firm to work with its internal US management team to review and advise on the video-sharing app’s content policies, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s general manager for the US, said in the statement.

  • The advisory team includes former US congressmen Bart Gordon of Tennessee and Jeff Denham of California.
  • The company said it would further increase transparency around its content moderation policies and practices.

Context: US Senator Marco Rubio last week requested that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review Bytedance’s 2017 acquisition of short video app Musical.ly, which was later rebranded as TikTok, citing concerns that Bytedance apps are increasingly used to censor content.

  • The Guardian reported last month that TikTok instructs its moderators to censor videos that are deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government, citing leaked documents detailing the platform’s guidelines.
  • TikTok told The Verge last week that its content and moderation policies “are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government,” adding that the Chinese government does not request it censor content.