Short video app TikTok is being criticized for content moderation policies that limited the reach of videos from users deemed susceptible to cyberbullying including those with disabilities, reported.

Why it matters: TikTok has come under fire recently for its moderation policies for politically controversial or sensitive content, with lawmakers in the US raising questions about whether the platform removes short videos at the request of Beijing.

  • The company stated that it has never and will never remove content from TikTok at the request of the Chinese government.

Details: According to content moderation documents obtained by German digital media Netzpolitik, TikTok has specific tagging rules for “imagery depicting a subject highly vulnerable to cyberbullying.”

  • Moderators at TikTok would mark users “susceptible to harassment or cyberbullying based on their physical or mental condition” as “risk 4,” making their videos visible only in their country of upload, according to the documents.
  • Users that were considered particularly vulnerable would be tagged as “Auto R,” effectively preventing the content from appearing in feeds after the videos reached a certain view threshold.
  • Users that were considered vulnerable included those with facial disfigurements, autism, and Down syndrome, though the report showed that a wider swathe of users were affected including LGBT and overweight individuals.
  • A TikTok employee told Netzpolitik that moderators had about 30 seconds on average to judge whether someone has these characteristics and mark the videos.
  • Moderators had carried out the rules until at least September.
  • A TikTok spokeswoman said that the rules were never intended to be a long-term solution and that TikTok had replaced them after realizing it was not the right approach, according to the report.

Context: Former TikTok employees in the US said that they had to follow content moderation rules set by managers based in Beijing, who have the final say about what content should appear on the platform.

  • Bytedance has been trying to separate TikTok from its Chinese operations to allay suspicions from the US.
  • TikTok has been pushing to set up a data management team in Mountain View, California, to control access to TikTok’s database.
  • The short video platform is also hiring more US engineers to be less dependent on Bytedance employees based in China.

Bytedance moves to separate TikTok from its Chinese operations

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail:

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