After being critized for censuring protests in Hong Kong for political reasons, the popular video-sharing app TikTok is currently at the centre of a new political scandal. Indeed, the site’s moderation guidelines have been recently leaked, showing a cernsorship mechanism that restricts and bans sensitive information for the Chinese government.
In particular, censorship happens on two levels. Some content is marked as a “violation”, which leads to complete information removal and to the user being banned from the service; other contents are marked as “visible to self”, which means that information will still be viewable by the user who posted them, but not by others.
The censored contents are mostly about religion and politics, with Tiananmen Square protests, Tibetan independence, Taiwan and religious group Falun Gong all affected. The guidelines also forbid specific mention of a list of 20 current and former world leaders, a list that doesn’t include China’s premier Xi Jinping.
In response to the findings, owner company Bytedance said that the leaked guidelines are old, since they were phased out in May.
“The old guidelines in question are outdated and no longer in use. Today we take localised approaches, including local moderators, local content and moderation policies, local refinement of global policies, and more. We also consult with a number of independent local committees and are working to scale this at a global level, including forming an independent committee of leading industry organisations and experts to continually assess these policies.”
Nonetheless, the situation remains quite unclear and the app, which, last year, was one of the most downloaded in the world, now risks facing a new crisis.