Tiktok moderators told not to push posts with 'ugly facial looks' and 'beer belly'
The instructions were disseminated in internal documents, which also had instructions to censor political speech.
Chinese social media phenomenon Tiktok might be all the rage now but it has been operating under some shady instructions, according to documents obtained by The Intercept and published on Tuesday (Mar 17).
According to the leaked documents, Tiktok had instructed moderators not to promote videos from users with “ugly facial looks”. This definition extended to those with scars and wrinkles. Those who judged fit for this “ugly” category would not be promoted to the app’s “For You” page.
The documents listed other definitions of undesirable traits, including “abnormal body shape”, having an “obvious beer belly”, and being too big or too thin.
Another criteria videos were judged by was the visible environment. Moderators were to avoid promoting videos with a “shabby and dilapidated environment” – that meant picking homes with “no obvious slummy character” over those with cracks in the walls or “disreputable” decorations.
The reason stated in the documents: “If the character’s appearance or the shooting environment is not good, the video will be much less attractive, not worthing [sic] to be recommended to new users.”
Responding to the documents, Tiktok spokesperson Josh Gartner told The Intercept that most of the listed “guidelines” are “either no longer in use, or in some cases appear to never have been in place”.
Gartner went on to justify the “ugly” rule as “an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying”, adding that the rule was “already out of use when The Intercept obtained them”.
Another set of documents showed that Tiktok had also asked moderators to censor political speech in videos, including possible controversial content that that talked about “state organs” such as the police or military. Any videos deemed to be “endangering national security” or “national honour and interests” would lead to a permanent ban.
Tiktok has been known to exercise strong censorship on its platform. A report in The Guardian in September 2019 revealed that moderators were told to censor content pertaining to Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence.
In November 2019, a user uploaded a video highlighting the internment of Uighurs in Chinese concentration camps in Xinjiang, which was quickly removed. Tiktok apologised for the move and reversed the user’s ban.