Chinese video-sharing app TikTok has taken off in a big way across the world, but it has recently faced increased criticism in the west. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman called the platform "fundamentally parasitic" last month, while Lizzo called out TikTok for removing videos of her in bathing suits. In an extensive report from the Intercept, it has been revealed that TikTok moderators were told to suppress videos of people deemed too "ugly, poor, or disabled" in an effort to attract more people to download the app.
Internal documents from the company show that moderators have been told to censor political content, and to ban users who "harmed 'national honor.'" Sources with knowledge of TikTok's extensive censorship efforts have added that "rigid constraints" have been implemented, which is antithetical to the brand's image of self-expression and creativity. Of particular note, moderators have been told to hide videos if they show "rural poverty, slums, beer bellies, and crooked smiles." An unspoken "modesty code" has also resulted in the removal of content featuring bikini or swimming suits "outside of a 'beach or swimming occasion.'"
A spokesperson for the company has said that "most of" the guidelines in the documents are "either no longer in use, or in some cases appear to never have been in place."
Despite this, political content on the website, especially material considered critical of the Communist Party of China, has been removed in the past. Content that makes reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has notably been removed from TikTok, while the documents also indicate anything to do with the tracking of "military or police activity" could result in a temporary ban.