TikTok says it faced 32 government requests to remove content in Australia in the second half of 2020 – with only Russia and Pakistan making more requests

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
  • Social media platform TikTok says it received 32 government requests to remove content in Australia over the second half of 2020.
  • In a new report, TikTok said those requests led to 74 user accounts being banned or restricted.
  • Only in Russia and Pakistan did TikTok receive more government requests to remove content.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Social media app TikTok received 32 government requests to remove or restrict content in Australia over the second half of 2020, the company says.

In its new Transparency Report, published on Wednesday night, TikTok shared some insight into its moderation process, including tallies of external demands to strike content from its platform.

TikTok said that between July 1 and December 31, it received 32 government take-down requests in Australia concerning 98 individual accounts.

Of that number, 74 accounts were removed or restricted.

The short video app counted a total of 16 videos removed or restricted after those clips were highlighted by a government agency or representative.

“When we receive requests from government agencies to restrict or remove content on our
platform in accordance with local laws, we review all material in line with our Community Guidelines, Terms of Service, and applicable law, and take the appropriate action,” the report said.

“If we believe that a request isn’t legally valid or doesn’t violate our standards, we may restrict the availability of the reported content in the country where it is alleged to be illegal or we may take no action.”

Only in Russia and Pakistan did TikTok receive more official requests to remove content, with those markets reporting 135 and 97 government take-down notices, respectively.

TikTok Australia was unable to provide Business Insider Australia with further details regarding figures listed in the report.

20 accounts highlighted in legal and emergency data requests

Separately, TikTok said it had received four legal requests to turn over user data in Australia over the second half of 2020.

Of those requests, only one was granted.

In its report, TikTok said law enforcement agencies may request non-public user information, should they have court orders or other legal documents granting them the authority to do so.

Those documents are “carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency” before any data is turned over, TikTok said.

In addition, TikTok said it fielded eight ’emergency’ requests for data, linked to instances where TikTok has “reason to believe, in good faith, that the disclosure of information is required to prevent the imminent risk of death or serious physical injury to any person.”

Six of those requests were granted.

All told, 20 individual accounts were linked to legal and ’emergency’ requests for data.

Australia’s recent history of content takedowns

While recent headlines have been dominated by the Federal Government’s heavyweight bout with Facebook over the news media bargaining code, the latest TikTok figures add an intriguing new layer to Australia’s short and contentious relationship with the social media newcomer.

In September last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded TikTok remove horrific footage of an American man taking his own life, after the video was inadvertently viewed by young Australians nationwide.

The footage, which originated on Facebook, reportedly evaded the app’s moderation systems when users embedded it in seemingly innocuous videos.

Those clips played for several seconds before cutting to the graphic footage.

“Platforms like TikTok need to put in more resources to detect and tear down this sort of harmful content,” Morrison said at the time.

“That is their responsibility.”

At the time, a TikTok spokesperson said its systems were working to automatically detect the footage.

The platform also thanked users who “reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform”.

Morrison added that the eSafety Commissioner – the governmental body tasked with ensuring the safety of Australians online – liaised with TikTok about the issue.

Business Insider Australia has contacted the Office of the eSafety Commissioner for comment.

Outside of that kind of distressing footage, it is not unthinkable that the Federal Government would ask TikTok to remove content it deems offensive.

In November, Morrison demanded Twitter remove a doctored image posted by a Chinese diplomat, which appeared to show an Australian special forces soldier killing an Afghan child.

The post – a sharp jab at allegations that war crimes had been committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan – was an “absolutely outrageous and disgusting slur,” Morrison said.

89 million videos removed worldwide

According to Roy Morgan estimates, TikTok counted some 2.5 million Australians users in the first half of 2020.

Given the recent scrutiny – and regulatory burdens – that governments like Australia’s have placed on social media giants like TikTok, the Transparency Report appears to be the platform’s attempt to prove users don’t scroll through an unmoderated wasteland.

“We believe that feeling safe is essential to feeling comfortable expressing yourself
authentically, which is why we strive to uphold our Community Guidelines by removing accounts and content that violate them,” said Brent Thomas, TikTok’s regional director of public policy, and Arjun Narayan Bettadapur Manjunath, the app’s head of trust and safety for the APAC sector.

The report claims TikTok removed more than 89 million videos worldwide in the six months leading to December 31, with six million accounts removed for violating the app’s guidelines.

Update: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that footage of a man taking his own life originated on Facebook.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.