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- TikTok, the viral video-sharing app, has raised concerns in the US over allegations it censors content at the request of the Chinese government, including political videos.
- In a recent interview with The New York Times, TikTok chief Alex Zhu said that users don’t go on the platform for “political discussion,” but that such content is allowed as long as it aligns with TikTok’s “creative and joyful experience.”
- Reports have emerged in recent months that TikTok employees remove and restrict “culturally problematic” content on the platform, although the company insists it’s independent of its China-based owner, ByteDance.
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Amid accusations that TikTok censors videos that would offend the Chinese government, the head of the video-sharing app has said that political content is allowed on the platform as long it’s “creative and joyful.”
TikTok has emerged as a wildly popular platform in the US for launching internet memes, viral stars, and Generation Z-loved comedy. But as the platform has blown past 1.5 billion downloads, the app’s roots in China and its relationship with the Chinese government has raised concerns that TikTok is censoring content deemed offensive to China’s government, including videos dealing with social and political topics.
In an interview with The New York Times, TikTok head Alex Zhu said that political content is allowed on the platform, as long as it falls in line with the app’s “creative and joyful experience.”
But reports have emerged in recent months that TikTok isn’t as independent from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, as it says it is. Six ex-TikTok employees told The Washington Post that Chinese workers had the “final call” on what content was blocked or otherwise restricted. Employees in the US said that, as recently as this spring, they were told to restrict content showing vaping, “heavy kissing and more suggestive dance moves,” or “social and political topics.”
When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong earlier this year, TikTok was curiously devoid of any hints of unrest, and videos instead documented a prettier picture.
The Guardian has also reported on TikTok internal documents that directed platform moderators to censor “highly controversial topics” that were likely to anger the Chinese government – namely, videos criticizing China’s stance on political policies and historical events, such as the Tiananmen Square protests.
But TikTok has consistently insisted that it’s independent from China, since the app is only available in non-Chinese markets. Zhu told the Times that he would refuse a request from China president Xi Jinping if he ever asked him for access to TikTok user data or for a video to be taken down.
TikTok’s Chinese roots have raised concerns from lawmakers, national security officials, and users alike that the Chinese government exerts some measure of control over the content posted on the platform. The US government is now reportedly investigating ByteDance over national security concerns.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that TikTok has been brainstorming ways to distance itself from ByteDance, but the company has denied there’s any plans to rebrand or move the platform’s headquarters.