TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. It is used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. In an internal document, moderators have been explicitly told to suppress uploads from users with flaws both congenital and inevitable. “Abnormal body shape,” “ugly facial looks,” dwarfism, and “obvious beer belly,” “too many wrinkles,” “eye disorders,” and many other “low quality” traits are all enough to keep uploads out of the algorithmic fire hose. Videos in which “the shooting environment is shabby and dilapidated,” including but “not limited to … slums, rural fields” and “dilapidated housing” were also systematically hidden from new users, though “rural beautiful natural scenery could be exempted,” the document notes.
The document, presented in both English and Chinese, advised TikTok’s moderators that for videos shot in someone’s house with “no obvious slummy charactor [sic],” special care should be given to check for slummy features such as a “crack on the wall” or “old and disreputable decorations.” The mere appearance of residential disrepair or crooked teeth in the frame, the document shows, could mean the difference between worldwide distribution and relative invisibility. The justification here, as with “ugly” uploaders, was again that TikTok should retain an aspirational air to attract and hold onto new users: “This kind of environment is not that suitable for new users for being less fancy and appealing.” Social startups, eager to build on their momentum rather than disappear into the app heap of history, commonly consider growth and user retention to be by far their top priority, but rarely is the public privy to the details of this kind of nakedly aggressive expansion. Tiktok is one of the most popular apps in the world, with over 800 million monthly users who seem to think they are indulging their creative freedom, while being turned into unwitting pawns in Beijing’s lust for world domination!
While TikTok policies around the “For You” section had to do with suppression, that is, keeping certain content from becoming too popular, a second document obtained by The Intercept is concerned with censorship, laying out rules for outright removing content from the company’s video livestreaming feature. The rules go far beyond the usual Beijing bugbears like Tiananmen Square and Falun Gong. Crucially, these rules could be easily interpreted to proscribe essential components of political speech by classifying them as dangerous or defamatory. China says, “censorship? What’s that? All your rights come from the divine CCP, what you call censorship is your “tithe” to the Party!”
Any number of the document’s rules could be invoked to block discussion of a wide range of topics embarrassing to government authorities: “Defamation … towards civil servants, political or religious leaders” as well as towards “the families of related leaders” has been, under the policy, punishable with a terminated stream and a daylong suspension. Any broadcasts deemed by ByteDance’s moderators to be “endangering national security” or even “national honor and interests” were punished with a permanent ban, as were “uglification or distortion of local or other countries’ history,” with the “Tiananmen Square incidents” cited as only one of three real world examples. A “Personal live broadcast about state organs such as police office, military etc,” would knock your stream offline for three days, while documenting military or police activity would get you kicked off for that day (would-be protestors, take note). Folks, tell me that the CCP isn’t the REAL owner of Tiktok!
Other moderation documents obtained by The Intercept indicate that TikTok has influenced content on its platform not just by censoring videos and disappearing users, but by padding feeds with content from “shadow accounts” operated by company employees posing as regular users. Internal employee guidelines reviewed by The Intercept suggest that ByteDance employees scoured Instagram for popular topics, downloaded the videos, and reshared them on TikTok to maintain a steady spray of appealing content; workers tasked with populating “Nice Looking” videos on the app were encouraged to check out Instagram posts tagged with “#BeachGirl,” for example. At the same time as TikTok contractors seem to have been pilfering “beach girl” content, women who didn’t hew to TikTok’s invisible modesty code could have their streams terminated and their accounts banned, the livestream policy document shows. Streams depicting someone wearing bikini or swimming suits outside of a “beach or swimming occasion” were to be punished with a one-week suspension, while accounts showing the “outline of female nipples” could be closed “forever.” TikTok’s livestream modesty code even applied to the arts: “Singing or playing music pornography contents, sexual cues, etc” are forbidden, as is merely “discussing the topic of sexual reproduction” on stream — acts TikTok classifies as “voice vulgarity.” I personally think that controlling content with a “modesty code” could be a good idea, if users were required to read and agree to the code before signing up….but that’s not how it’s done. Like any totalitarian entity, there are masses of ignorant
slaves users controlled by a few elite in-the-know bosses.
Multiple TikTok sources, who spoke with The Intercept on the condition of anonymity because they feared professional and legal reprisal, emphasized the primacy of ByteDance’s Beijing HQ over the global TikTok operation, explaining that their ever-shifting decisions about what’s censored and what’s boosted are dictated by Chinese staff, whose policy declarations are then filtered around TikTok’s 12 global offices, translated into rough English, finally settling into a muddle of Beijing authoritarianism crossed with the usual Silicon Valley prudishness. Talk about a “toxic” combination!
Not so muddled is Beijing on Friday ordered at least seven Chinese nationals to walk away from their jobs at American news outlets, escalating the public spat between the superpowers over press access. News assistants at The New York Times, Voice of America and two other outlets were dismissed from their positions and told to go home, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “China appears determined to crush the news-gathering operations of major U.S. outlets in Beijing, this time by taking punishing measures against local Chinese employees,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator said. “This action will not stop the ongoing tit-for-tat between China and the United States, and may escalate it. China should stop trying to control and intimidate foreign news bureaus and allow them to hire Chinese staff freely and directly.”
Folks, don’t play China’s game! I’m talking to you, liberal American media and China apologists! While the ordinary Chinese citizen, like citizens in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and every totalitarian country whose boots are stamping on their faces, yearns for freedom, they are clearly experiencing the ugly truth about the trade-off of freedom for “security”. It isn’t a trade-off. Once freedom is lost, to whom can you appeal to try to get some back? For those hearts in bondage, it’s our terrible, “racist” USA!! Show some gratitude!