It may be the one of the hottest social media platforms, but TikTok is providing a template of what not to do.
Reporting for The Intercept, Sam Biddle, Paulo Victor Ribeiro and Tatiana Dias say that the company behind TikTok has “instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.”
TikTok has faced ongoing scrutiny over privacy and security concerns. The Pentagon released guidance instructing military personnel to delete the app, and the company faces a lawsuit in California over allegations it uploaded videos to China without user consent. The app has also been dogged by censorship concerns and even announced a Transparency Center, for critics to analyze how the company moderates posts.
According to The Intercept, “moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed ‘national honor’ or broadcast streams about ‘state organs such as police’ with bans from the platform.” The policy also called for TikTok moderators “to suppress uploads from users with flaws both congenital and inevitable. ‘Abnormal body shape,’ ‘ugly facial looks,’ dwarfism, and ‘obvious beer belly,’ ‘too many wrinkles,’ ‘eye disorders,’ and many other ‘low quality’ traits are all enough to keep uploads out of the algorithmic fire hose. Videos in which ‘the shooting environment is shabby and dilapidated,’ including but ‘not limited to … slums, rural fields’ and ‘dilapidated housing’ were also systematically hidden from new users, though ‘rural beautiful natural scenery could be exempted,’ the document notes.”
Although a TikTok spokesman said the measures were anti-bullying policies that were no longer in effect, the documents The Intercept reviewed explicitly cited subscriber growth as the real reason.
Given TikTok’s ongoing privacy and security issues, not to mention this kind of mismanagement and missteps, it’s probably a safe bet that TikTok’s growth may be about to experience a slowdown.