- The viral-video app TikTok has acknowledged previously having a policy in place that limited the reach of videos posted by disabled users on the app.
- The German tech blog Netzpolitik first reported on the moderation policy on Monday, saying the company on some occasions hid videos made by users considered “susceptible to harassment or cyberbullying based on their physical or mental condition.”
- TikTok in a statement said what it called a “blunt and temporary policy” was “never designed to be a long-term solution” and was no longer in place.
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The viral-video app TikTok has acknowledged previously having a policy that limited the reach of videos posted on the app by disabled users, saying what it described as a “blunt and temporary policy” was meant to curb bullying.
The German tech blog Netzpolitik first reported on the policy on Monday, citing leaked documents it obtained from TikTok as well as interviews with a source at TikTok with knowledge of the policies.
According to Netzpolitik, the documents, which outlined TikTok’s former moderation guidelines, laid out rules for imagery “depicting a subject highly vulnerable to cyberbullying.” It went on to describe users covered under the policy as people considered “susceptible to harassment or cyberbullying based on their physical or mental condition.”
As revealed by screenshots of the policy, it listed examples including facial disfigurements, autism, and Down syndrome.
According to Netzpolitik, TikTok’s moderation guidelines limited the visibility of content produced by those users, and people on the app who had disabilities were categorised as “Risk 4,” meaning their videos were visible only in the country where they were uploaded. Some users who were deemed by moderators to be particularly vulnerable had their videos hidden from the app’s main “For You” feed if they exceeded a certain number of views, which further limited the videos’ reach.
The policy was in place until at least September, according to the report.
TikTok acknowledged using the policy but said it was “never designed to be a long-term solution.”
“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” a TikTok representative said in a statement.
“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, but rather a way to help manage a troubling trend. While the intention was good, the approach was wrong and we have since changed the earlier policy in favour of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections. We continue to grow our teams and capacity and refine and improve our policies, in our ongoing commitment to providing a safe and positive environment for our users.”
TikTok has come under fire in recent weeks for its moderation policies after it suspended the account of Feroza Aziz, an American teenager who posted a critique of China disguised as a makeup tutorial. The video, which went viral, criticised the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s western autonomous region of Xinjiang.
The company said the suspension of Aziz’s account was due to “human error” and then issued a lengthy public apology before reinstating her account. In a statement to Business Insider in response to the controversy, TikTok said it “took a blunt approach to minimising conflict” in its early moderation policies.
“A previous version of our moderation guidelines allowed penalties to be given for things like content that promotes conflict between religious sects or ethnic groups, spanning a number of regions around the world,” the statement said. “The old guidelines in question are outdated and no longer in use.”
A report compiled by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute last month also alleged that ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, was working closely with China’s government to facilitate human-rights abuses against Uighurs through its Chinese apps, an allegation the company denies.
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