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TikTok could face a political reckoning

TikTok could face a political reckoning

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A political message masked as a makeup tutorial video from TikTok has gone viral, and brought the short-form video platform’s relatively restrictive content moderation methods into the spotlight, per MIT Tech Review.

More Than Half of TikTok's Content Removals Are Hate Speech Violations


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Feroza Aziz, whose account has since been suspended for a month, filmed a faux-makeup tutorial in which she encouraged viewers to look into the Uighur crisis currently occurring in China. By disguising the video as a makeup tutorial, Aziz manipulated TikTok’s recommendations algorithm, which allegedly privileges content like makeup tutorials and demotes political content. The company claims Aziz’s account was suspended for unrelated reasons, but the timing has been criticized as suspicious.

The recent event highlights two areas of increasing concern that the short-form video app will need to contend with going forward: 

  • TikTok’s relationship with Beijing is currently under scrutiny in the US, and this move, along with recent reports that it actively suppresses political content, could add fuel to that fire. Aziz’s video comes immediately following leaked information about TikTok’s content moderation policies, which reportedly instruct moderators to limit the popularity of political and protest content on the platform. And all of this is happening in the backdrop of TikTok’s recent issues with the US government, which is wary of its connection to the Chinese government given its rising influence in the US. Earlier this week, those concerns led to the US Military commanding its cadets to stop using the app for recruitment, despite its effectiveness. For its part, TikTok has categorically denied any close connection with Beijing. While TikTok’s stringent content moderation policies could be read as an attempt to satisfy Beijing, it’s also possible they instead stem from a decision to take a no-nonsense approach to political misinformation as other, larger platforms continue to struggle with its spread.
  • TikTok is most popular with young people, who tend to use social media for political and social activism and likely won’t respond well to any form of censorship on those grounds. Forty-one percent of TikTok users are between 16 and 24 years old, per a study from Hootesuite and We Are Social. That means its primary demographic is young millennials and Gen Z, who tend to view social media as a place to voice their opinions and push forward causes they deem important. In order for platforms to appeal to this generation, they need to establish a brand that’s associated with consciousness and responsibility in the social and political arenas. For TikTok, that could mean its blanket approach to content moderation will cause issues if this group begins to feel it is being silenced. The company would do well to communicate more openly about its content moderation policy decisions in order to take control of its narrative.

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