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China-Based TikTok Actively Banning The Gay Away When Not Helping Authoritarians Be More Authoritarian

from the when-your-core-users-don't-actually-use-the-app dept

TikTok is the new Vine. (I apologize if this sentence is incomprehensible. If I wasn't raising teens, it would be pretty much incomprehensible to me too.) The social media platform that allows users to upload short video and encourages remixing via duets or reaction videos has roped in a billion users in a surprisingly short amount of time.

It's fun for (almost) all ages. The younger you skew, the more popular it is. Fun for all ages, but not all sexualities apparently. The app was created by Chinese company ByteDance, so it's more than receptive than most to calls to censor content based on countries' desire to mute those who aren't heterosexual. (h/t K'Tetch)

The Guardian has been reporting on ByteDance's censorial efforts on behalf of governments around the world. Unsurprisingly, censorship begins at home.

The documents, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, lay out how ByteDance, the Beijing-headquartered technology company that owns TikTok, is advancing Chinese foreign policy aims abroad through the app.

The revelations come amid rising suspicion that discussion of the Hong Kong protests on TikTok is being censored for political reasons: a Washington Post report earlier this month noted that a search on the site for the city-state revealed “barely a hint of unrest in sight”.

The proxy censorship is applied in two ways. ByteDance will delete content it finds unacceptable -- including content it finds unacceptable on behalf of others. It also bans users for repeatedly posting content it later deletes. In other cases, the content stays up, but ByteDance severely reduces its visibility. The end result is a video-sharing platform that contains almost no videos highlighting the protests in Hong Kong.

But it's not just political, even if TikTok's content-burying efforts come at the behest of political parties. The follow-up report from The Guardian notes TikTok has been instrumental in excising plenty of content that fails to denigrate non-hetero relationships and lifestyles.

TikTok’s efforts to provide locally sensitive moderation have resulted in it banning any content that could be seen as positive to gay people or gay rights, down to same-sex couples holding hands, even in countries where homosexuality has never been illegal, the Guardian can reveal.

[...]

[An] entire section of the rules was devoted to censoring depictions of homosexuality. “Intimate activities (holding hands, touching, kissing) between homosexual lovers” were censored, as were “reports of homosexual groups, including news, characters, music, tv show, pictures”. Similarly blocked was content about “protecting rights of homosexuals (parade, slogan, etc.)” and “promotion of homosexuality”. In all those guidelines, TikTok went substantially further than required by law.

TikTok's overzealous content moderation goes further than just muting pro-gay content. It also covers a ton of content various governments find somewhat offensive, but not enough to actually outlaw it. TikTok prevents users in Turkey from mocking the ultra-mockable Recep Erdogan, as well as posting depictions of "non-Islamic gods."

ByteDance calls its content-blocking efforts a "localised approach." But it's really just an extension of something that's all too familiar to citizens of ByteDance's home country: the elevation of governments above citizens, even though its citizens that use the app, not governments.

Weirdly, ByteDance is far more permissive than many social media apps when it comes to questionable content involving children. Sexualized content featuring children tends to avoid moderating efforts -- something TikTok encourages by telling moderators to treat every video subject as over the age of 18 unless they have proof otherwise.

As a private company, TikTok is not a censorship body on its own. It can moderate content however it sees fit without trampling on people's rights. The problem is TikTok has become an unofficial extension of multiple governments by adopting their rules for acceptable content, rather than applying its moderation consistently across the board.

This doesn't necessarily make ByteDance worse than US-based social media platforms. The only difference is its country of origin, where broad censorship is considered normal, rather than an aberration. But US social media companies do the same thing. To avoid being blocked in more authoritarian countries, platforms aid and abet the oppression of citizens by agreeing to follow whatever censorial laws these governments have put in place, even if it means suppressing dissent and making things more dangerous (and less appealing) for their users.

Filed Under: china, content moderation, tiktok
Companies: bytedance, tiktok


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 4:17am

    Censorship!

    New company X which allow people to upload stuff (comments, videos, who cares) also sometimes stops people from using its service and sometimes deletes and/or reindexes the stuff that people have dumped on its storage.

    Who cares.

    Perhaps better would be an article saying how people are so technically under educated that they dont know how to set up a website or social media platform themselves. The FOSS community have been providing these tools for decades.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:11am

      Re: Censorship!

      The biggest issue with doing it yourself, other than it costing to have a fixed IP address and a DNS entry, is the lack of network effect when you do it yourself.

      "This is where people with common interests gather" is powerful selling point, especially if the search and associated tools are available for finding and linking with like minded people work well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 9:31am

        Re: Re: Censorship!

        other than it costing to have a fixed IP address and a DNS entry

        A fixed IP address isn't necessary, and a DNS entry doesn't need to cost. There are free dynamic DNS providers who will give you a subdomain for free, and you can get free domains at freenom.com.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 5:13am

    Any china based company has to comply with the laws in china, and
    censor minority groups, which include lgbt content .
    It happens to be the no 1 app as regards teens posting short video,s at least america .
    its strange there ,s no video,s on tik tok about the hong kong protest on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 5:32am

    it's quite true. just about every country on the Planet is doing whatever it can to ensure that the ordinary people are stopped from finding out anything about their and other governments, it's members, it's opposition members, the elite, the famous and the rich! the exact opposite is also happening when it comes to those above wanting to find out everything about us ordinary people, including but not limited to who we are, what we say, what we read, what we think, what we do, where we go both work and pleasure wise, how we do these things, how we get there, who we meet, who we speak to, what we say and a million other things! we are being enslaved more and more and in so being, we are ensuring that those above can continue to enslave us! and this all came about after the so-called 'financial crisis, when governments everywhere changed to be Conservative oriented, removing as many rights, privacy and privileges as possible, all of which were fought for over decades! instead of being a Planet that shared knowledge, we have become locked down, country by country where nothing matters but money and those who are getting more and more of it, along with the right to control every one of us!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    A Guy, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:16am

    Yeah... businesses are expected to play ball with the country they are hosted in. We're censored in the US too. Government employees can't host their own copy of classified information on their public servers from home. True threats of violence/criminal activity are removed and (:Horror Face:) probably billions of DMCA take downs have been issued.

    If they don't even try to plan to comply with local law when they set up a business they are technically trans-national organized crime not a business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:21am

    Wow, a company trying to comply with the legal and social norms of other cultures. How awful. Everybody should just do everything the American way, am I right?
    Every time I see an article here about Chinese companies, I am reminded of Wittgenstein's Lion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:34am

      Re:

      Perhaps it's just you who don't understand the lion...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 3 Oct 2019 @ 10:55am

      Re:

      China is not a lion. It is a country, the country is made of humans, and humans are understandable. Greed, pride, and the desire for power are easily understood.

      What you do not seem to grasp is that this is not about nationality, or that things should be done the American way (note the numerous articles lambasting American companies for their behavior, and noting how things are better in certain other companies) but rather that the behavior, which is entirely understandable, is nevertheless reprehensible.

      Yes. Tik Tok is a Chinese company. Yes, it complies with Chinese law and government direction. Yes, it attempts to comply with the desires of the various governments and etc. - that's all stated in the article. There's no surprise at this. Nobody is taken aback by this - it was, in fact, expected.

      None of that means it's not fucked up. None of that means it's not just more oppression. None of that means it's right.

      Legality and morality do not necessarily match. Reprehensible actions can and should be called out where they exist - and a commentary on actions of this company as directed by the various governments they wish to appease becomes a commentary on those governments as well.

      If a lion could speak, we would not understand the lion ... but if there is a lion here, the lion is the general citizenry, and the people who don't understand are the governments who want them to stop speaking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 11:24am

        Legality and morality do not necessarily match.

        To wit: War turns what we would otherwise call murder into a legal act.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:05am

          Re:

          "To wit: War turns what we would otherwise call murder into a legal act."

          Similarly the holocaust was perfectly legitimate under national law in 1940. Slavery in the american south was legal before the civil war. Oppression of women is today legal in many nations.

          The "moral choice" is often invoked in direct conflict with law which is why everyone needs to question, criticize, and stand ready to violate a law when said law turns out to be of harm rather than help.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 5:34am

            Re: Re:

            There were laws in place about murder.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2019 @ 2:43am

              Re: Re: Re:

              "There were laws in place about murder."

              So there were. Not that it helped since one of Hitler's first acts was to give himself plenipotentiary legislative power. Anything he wrote gained full force of law.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            A Guy, 4 Oct 2019 @ 5:39am

            Re: Re:

            Some Germans were tried under their own law for the Holocaust. Although the Nazi's had control of all government institutions they didn't bother to legalize the holocaust (at least not everywhere) and some were hanged under laws they didn't bother to repeal after allied liberation.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2019 @ 2:55am

              Re: Re: Re:

              "Although the Nazi's had control of all government institutions they didn't bother to legalize the holocaust (at least not everywhere)..."

              Actually, they did. The nazis were tried for german laws, yes...
              ...but Hitler's first act in office was to give himself full legislative authority. The holocaust - and all the other atrocities committed by the nazis - had the full power of law as long as Hitler was the one who signed the order.

              The Nuremberg race laws and Decree against public enemies (Folk Pest Law" were what "legalized" the holocaust in the third reich. When the allies brought down the third reich regime they similarly rolled back hitler's legislation. It's against that background that the allies, during the Nürnberg trials, chose to apply the laws valid under Weimar and before, in condemning the war criminals.

              This was a political decision as it was properly assumed that to pacify the german citizenry and prevent any possible resurgence of nazi ideology they had to be shown that the nazis were criminal monsters convicted under their OWN laws, not those of a foreign invader.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 12:29pm

        Re: Re:

        You've missed the point entirely, congratulations.

        The actions of Tik Tok are reprehensible, yes. To you and me. But morality is subjective. Their actions are certainly not reprehensible from the point of view of Tik Tok, or probably even from the point of view of many Chinese people.

        You assume greed, pride, and the desire for power are the motivations for every action because that's what makes sense to you, because those things are huge motivators in your world. They make sense in your context.

        Well what if other things were (at least ostensibly) more important in your society than personal freedom and wealth? Things like social order, tradition, and stability? What if you came from an authoritarian state where compliance with the law and social norms is rigidly upheld? If everyone around you is telling you that doing those things is actually right and good, would you still find Tik Tok's actions reprehensible?

        The Lion is not Tik Tok, or the Chinese government, it is the Chinese people. Has it occurred to anyone here that the people at Tik Tok probably believe they're doing the right thing?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Bobo, 3 Oct 2019 @ 4:24pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's always a sign that you have a super strong argument when you have to resort to "What even is morality?"

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          TFG, 3 Oct 2019 @ 5:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You've missed the point entirely, congratulations.

          Right back atcha.

          The actions of Tik Tok are reprehensible, yes. To you and me.

          Yes. So why are you defending them, or trying to argue that people should not state that they are reprehensible?

          But morality is subjective.

          Irrelevant, even if I agreed. If I find the actions of Tik Tok to be reprehensible, I have no reason not to state as much.

          Their actions are certainly not reprehensible from the point of view of Tik Tok, or probably even from the point of view of many Chinese people.

          Again, irrelevant. I can understand that they may not consider them reprehensible (and that I can understand it is why Wittgenstein's lion does not apply), but that does not mean I cannot or should not call their actions out as being reprehensible.

          The actions of the individual people within Tik Tok may be informed by more than the desire for power, the desire for money (greed), or pride, but in the end, it is a corporation making profit, serving an authoritarian government seeking to keep power.

          Social order and tradition may be values held, but these do not excuse reprehensible actions. Traditions may be challenged and torn down. Tradition does not dictate morality. Tradition is not immune to criticism. Social order does not dictate morality. Social order is not immune to criticism.

          Etc.

          That Tik Tok considers themselves to be in the right is evident. Of course people have considered this - and that just makes their actions all the more reprehensible. That a wide swathe of the Chinese citizenry might support these actions is also understood...

          And equally irrelevant to whether or not anyone should say anything.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:10am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "The actions of Tik Tok are reprehensible, yes. To you and me. But morality is subjective. Their actions are certainly not reprehensible from the point of view of Tik Tok, or probably even from the point of view of many Chinese people."

          Not so much.

          A morality based on the sanctity of life and liberty is something understandable and acknowledged by everyone who hasn't been indoctrinated to the contrary.

          What you are essentially arguing is that China lives in a moral reality so alien from the rest of humanity we should treat them as a different species. It has to be noted that a condemnation and demonization of THAT degree is something not even Israel is willing to pin on the Third Reich.

          I'm pretty sure, given the few thousand years worth of chinese literature and philosophy, that the Chinese PEOPLE do not subscribe to any moral paradigm so hostile to humanity as you portray it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 5:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Why are you attempting to rationalize?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:01am

      Re:

      "Wow, a company trying to comply with the legal and social norms of other cultures. How awful. Everybody should just do everything the American way, am I right? Every time I see an article here about Chinese companies, I am reminded of Wittgenstein's Lion."

      Trolling doesn't get more acceptable just because you throw in some erudite metaphor - which doesn't fit the situation at hand, mind.

      If the Lion talks and we couldn't understand it, fine.
      If the Lion EATS someone, we kill it.

      The condemnation of China's various actions to stem and hinder the free flow of information is based on China actively repressing personal and individual personal lives. Not because we somehow fail to understand WHY the Chinese government is taking action rooted in gender-based bigotry.

      We don't need to understand why a bigot is curb-stomping a fellow human being in order to take the moral choice and stop the bigot from harming others.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 7:09am

    The Same Thing Really

    The mistreatment of sexual minorities is fundamentally an extension of authoritarianism first and foremost. To those who aren't authoritarian or personally involved their natural reaction is "weird but why should I care?". To authoritarians it is fundamentally an affront to their hierarchical and normist world view and they will grasp at any straws to justify it by their nominal moral frameworks.

    We are likely most familiar with Christian ones. The fact "gay sex is bad" was the prevailing judgement of Sodom instead of "mistreating guests and foreigners is unacceptable" and Leviticus is brought out only to cudgel while ignoring the rest of it shows the rationalization pattern. Communist authoritarians displayed similar objections despite disavowing the religion or lacking the same backing even though leaving workers to share apartments

    Hell even the Aztecs /started/ with brutal inquisition worthy executions for gay sex well before they had Western contact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:06am

      Re: The Same Thing Really

      If you're a genuine authoritarian it isn't necessary at all to grasp at straws to justify your moral framework. All personal interests and freedoms are subordinate to the State and its government, whatever form that entails. It's very simple.

      Imagine coming from a society where arranged marriages are still normal, and the state can tell you how many children to have. How must that affect a person's views on marriage and sexuality?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 10:17am

        Re: Re: The Same Thing Really

        Authoritarianism is staged and its manifestations depend upon its relative prevalence. Even they must deal with pretenses to hammer in justify a "why" and their power. Also to themselves since someone must be at the local or absolute top with motivations making the decisions - even if it is itself adherence to utter nonsense or mutated beyond recognition.

        They don't start out with "obey the great leade because" in the beginning because that gets them chucked in the loony bin next to several different Jesus Christ, Napoleon and Elvis claimants in nicer societies or killed in less kind ones.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:15am

      Re: The Same Thing Really

      "o authoritarians it is fundamentally an affront to their hierarchical and normist world view and they will grasp at any straws to justify it by their nominal moral frameworks."

      And that, right there, is the WHY of why China clamps down on anything considered to be in violation of whatever social norm the ruling oligarchy feels should be the acceptable standard.

      Truth is, China has always operated - for all of their recorded history - with the view that as long as what you do is hidden from the public eye then you will not be bothered. As soon as what you do and say becomes a public matter the authorities will investigate and if they find anything they CAN object to, shut you down hard, as an example unto others.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:09am

    This just in!

    Capitalists chase money instead of justice. Details at 11.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:26am

    If you're a parent and you let your children use TikTok, then you're a bad parent. If you're old enough that you don't need your parent's permission and you use TikTok, you're an ignorant fool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:34am

      Re:

      If you're old enough that you don't need your parent's permission and you use TikTok, you're an ignorant fool.

      Well, thank god there aren't very many of those.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Annonymouse, 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:53am

        Re: Re:

        For varying numbers of fools and ignoramuses.
        Mind, ignorance is treatable through knowledge.
        Stupid just is, there is no cure.

        Politicians are like diapers.
        Both need to be changed often and for the same reason.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 12:38pm

    Nice priorities there guys

    Sexualized content featuring children tends to avoid moderating efforts -- something TikTok encourages by telling moderators to treat every video subject as over the age of 18 unless they have proof otherwise.

    ...

    [An] entire section of the rules was devoted to censoring depictions of homosexuality. “Intimate activities (holding hands, touching, kissing) between homosexual lovers” were censored, as were “reports of homosexual groups, including news, characters, music, tv show, pictures”. Similarly blocked was content about “protecting rights of homosexuals (parade, slogan, etc.)” and “promotion of homosexuality”. In all those guidelines, TikTok went substantially further than required by law.

    Telling rules there on what the company in question considers more harmful, and therefore more important to keep off the service.

    Two gay people committing the heinous crime of holding hands? Get that off the platform, there are children on that might see it!

    Sexual content where the age of the individual in the video is unknown, and may or may not be above the age of consent? Assume they are 18 until proven otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Avideogameplayer, 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:13am

    Gay? NO!
    Pedophiles? YES!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Digitari, 4 Oct 2019 @ 9:43am

    Objective VS subjective

    Morals are subjective

    Justice is Objective (allegedly)

    (it why she is always shown with a blindfold on, not because one side or the other pulls the wool over her eyes)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      A Guy, 4 Oct 2019 @ 11:59am

      Re: Objective VS subjective

      I think that's a Greek or Roman God depicted in the Justice statues. Under Greek/Roman theology justice was supposed to be objective but my experience is it is not.

      Justice is highly related to a person's sense of fairness and empathy. Sense of empathy is determined by education, social status, societal norms, and many biological factors. Sense of fairness and empathy vary so much from person-to-person and from era-to-era that I don't see how it can reasonably be called objective.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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