TikTok has come under fire for suppressing videos from disabled, LGBTQ and overweight users, in what the social media app describes as a flawed attempt to tackle bullying.
Citing leaked documents, German digital rights website Netzpolitik.org reported that TikTok’s moderators were instructed to mark videos of people with disabilities and limit their reach. Netzpolitik.org reported that videos of LGBTQ and overweight people were also placed on a list of “special users” that limited their reach.
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TikTok told Fox News that the policy was a temporary one that has been overhauled.
“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” it said in an emailed statement. “This was never designed to be a long-term solution, but rather a way to help manage a troubling trend. While the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong and we have since removed the policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections.”
TikTok was slammed over its suppression of the videos. “TikTok, the social media sensation du jour, has apparently been hobbling users who have physical disabilities. It did so in a misguided attempt to shield these people from bullying — heavy emphasis on the word ‘misguided,’” Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, tweeted on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for UK disability equality charity Scope told the BBC that TikTok’s initial strategy was “bizarre.”
The Chinese-owned app has been in the spotlight recently. In October, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called for a probe into TikTok, citing concerns over national security. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also called for a review of TikTok by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Citing people familiar with the matter, Reuters reported in November that CFIUS had opened a national security investigation into TikTok. Following the inquiry, Reuters also reported TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is stepping up its efforts to separate TikTok from “much of its Chinese operations.”
Separately, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Islamic State has been using TikTok as a recruitment tool.