Video-sharing platform and the king of short-form videos, TikTok has come under fire from users accusing it of censoring hashtags related to the ongoing US protests sparked by George Floyd’s death. The company insists the issue was caused by a technical glitch.
Hashtags such as #GeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter were marked with zero views despite their subject matter dominating the news cycle and various social media for days, leading to one TikTok user tweeting that the company should “just admit your [sic] anti-black.”
Users of the platform, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, changed their profile pictures to black fists in solidarity with the protesters, while some on the social network have been encouraging others to blacklist those who did not support the movement.
TikTok claims that a ‘technical glitch’ is the cause
In a blog post published on Monday, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok US general manager, and Kudzi Chikumbu, director of creator community, responded to the slew of complaints by saying that “last week a technical glitch made it temporarily appear as if posts uploaded using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd would receive 0 views.”
“We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed,” Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s U.S. GM, and director of creator community Kudzi Chikumbu wrote in a blog post Monday. “We don’t ever want anyone to feel that way. We welcome the voices of the Black community wholeheartedly.”
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The “display issue,” they stated, had affected multiple hashtags unrelated to the protest as well.
TikTok blamed for censorship: reveals ‘actionable’ steps
Following the hiccup, TikTok also revealed several “actionable” steps the platform was taking in order to “foster an inclusive environment on our platform,” such as the creation of a diversity council geared toward “recognizing and uplifting the voices driving culture, creativity, and important conversations on the platform.”
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Another step includes “furthering the efforts of our internal diversity task force’ in order to see how its policies can better serve people of all backgrounds.”
TikTok also said it would participate in ‘Blackout Tuesday,’ a social media event that emerged out of the music industry to create “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community,” marked by users posting black squares on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as silence on some radio channels. As part of that, TikTok is turning off all playlists and campaigns on the Sounds page “to observe a moment of reflection and action,” Pappas and Chikumbu wrote.
TikTok said its teams are now working on ways to “elevate and support Black voices and causes.”
That includes investing in identifying and removing racist content that violates its policies, as well as improving the user appeals process over moderation decision. TikTok also said it is establishing a “creator diversity council” to promote “voices driving culture, creativity, and important conversations on the platform,” and developing a creator portal to improve communication and collaboration “for our broader creator community,” Pappas and Chikumbu wrote.
In addition, TikTok said it is donating $3 million to nonprofit organizations that help the black community, which has been disproportionately affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company pledged another $1 million toward “fighting the racial injustice and inequality that we are witnessing in this country,” the execs said.
TikTok: a controversial history
Whilst such woke messaging may seem out of place for an app that makes its business from dancing grandmas and lip-syncing kids, TikTok has a dicey past it would probably prefer to be forgotten.
TikTok has been accused of censoring videos in the past, including those in support of pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong last year, which was among the issues raised concerns among U.S. lawmakers about its Chinese ownership. TikTok claimed that it had never censored content at the direction of Chinese officials. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” TikTok said in a statement in October 2019.
Earlier, it was also banned in India for alleged promotion of child pornography.
RT with additional input by GVS News Desk