Before you make “becoming a viral TikTok star” a central component of your future financial plans, you might want to make sure you’re up to the exacting standards of the app’s extremely judgmental censorship algorithm. According to internal documents recently uncovered by The Intercept, ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the wildly popular video-sharing app, regularly instructs moderators to identify posts from users it deems unattractive, then artificially limit the audience reach of those posts to bar them from appearing in the app’s “For You” section. Similar censorship policies extend to content depicting poverty, people with disabilities, and anything negative about the police or other state institutions.
A spokesperson from TikTok told The Intercept that the policies of suppressing videos featuring poor or unattractive users was part of “an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying, but are no longer in place.” However, these internal documents make no mention of bullying and, in fact, make explicit reference to using the censorship policies to attract new users. After all, who wouldn’t want to be on an app with a bunch of wealthy hotties?
Moreover, sources have indicated to The Intercept that, despite claims made by the company spokesperson, these policies were in place as recently as late 2019.
Some of the physical traits deemed unfavorable by the company’s guidelines include “too many wrinkles,” “abnormal body shape,” “eye disorders,” and “obvious beer belly.” Additionally, videos that are shot in “shabby and dilapidated” settings or even feature something as small as a visible crack in the wall are systematically hidden from other users.
The deeper you get into the company’s censorship policies, the more convoluted and arbitrary the rules become. For example, engaging in racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted activity on a livestream can result in a one-month suspension, after which the user will be allowed to resume streaming regularly. Promote one of TikTok’s competitors or deign to show the outline of a nipple, however, and you’ll be banned from the app permanently.
At the end of the day, ByteDance is a private company and can freely choose what kind of content they want on their platform. But these kind of secretive censorship policies certainly make TikTok an unattractive place to be.
Send Great Job, Internet tips to firstname.lastname@example.org