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TikTok’s localised content moderation bans pro-LGBT and various political content: reports

Screenshots from TikTok App

TikTok bans any content that could be seen as positive to gay people or to gay rights, even those with same-sex couples holding hands, and even in countries where homosexuality has never been illegal, reports The Guardian. TikTok also censors content that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, the banned religious group Falun Gong, among others. Earlier this month, it was reported that TikTok was most likely censoring content around the Hong Kong protests, searches for Hong Kong revealed “barely a hint of unrest in sight”.

What all TikTok bans: TikTok’s guidelines divided the content into two: ‘violations’, which is deleted from the platform entirely; and ‘visible to self’, which leaves content up but limits its distribution. The bulk of TikTok’s guidelines covering China are in a section governing “hate speech and religion”. It also bans a list of 10 “foreign leaders or sensitive figures” including Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, Mahatma Gandhi, Barack Obama, Narendra Modi, Joko Widodo among others.

TikTok has adopted a localised moderation approach: TikTok told the Guardian that it had adopted a local content moderation, and is working to “empower local teams that have a nuanced understanding of each market”. These general guidelines were replaced in May 2019 with “localised approaches, including local moderators, local content and moderation policies, local refinement of global policies”. It has implemented this localised approach across everything from product, to team, to policy development.

What are the specifics of the local guidelines? TikTok runs two other sets of guidelines along with the general moderation guidelines. The ‘strict’ guidelines are used in conservative countries, where ‘partially naked buttocks’ would be banned.

For instance, TikTok has specific guidelines for Turkey that ban content relating to Kurdish separatism. Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot be criticised, defamed, or spoofed on TikTok.

TikTok also bans content that’s legal, for instance in Turkey: But TikTok also bans content which is legal and accepted in Turkey, such as those relating to alcohol consumption, and depictions of non-Islamic gods, and homosexuality.

Censoring content around homosexuality: Intimate activities (holding hands, touching, kissing) between homosexual lovers” was censored, so was “reports of homosexual groups, including news, characters, music, TV show, pictures”. Even content about “protecting rights of homosexuals (parade, slogan, etc.)” and “promotion of homosexuality” were banned. TikTok went “substantially further” than required by law in following all those guidelines, said The Guardian.

How TikTok regulates child porn: TikTok’s policy on “underage pornography” has four categories of underage users: an infant; under a year old; 1-8 years old; an adolescent; and if it’s unclear if a user is under 18, the guidelines ask the moderator to treat the user as an adult. TikTok says it has since reversed the policy, and now requires moderators to treat people as under 18 if there was any doubt.

Is this localised approach applicable in India? It’s unclear if TikTok adopts a localised content moderation approach for India, although the localised moderation approach was adopted in May 2019. What we know is that (as of July) Bytedance had 1,000 moderators, including contractors and vendors, moderating content across approximately 15 languages. Bytedance plans to expand this to 3,000 people by 2020.

India, Turkey, Pakistan among top 10 markets: TikTok’s top user base is India, where it had 200 million registered and 120 million active users as of June 2019. As of July 2019, its second largest market is USA, then Indonesia. This is followed by Pakistan, Vietnam, Turkey, Thailand, Japan, Russia, and Egypt.

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