ByteDance owned TikTok has always been in the news ever since it was launched, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Recently, Jihadi elements were flourishing on TikTok without being censored in the backdrop of the Wuhan virus pandemic. While ByteDance continues to maintain that they have no links with the Chinese government, an e-mail from TikTok to its India employees reveals otherwise and proves how TikTok is nothing but a propaganda tool of the Chinese Communist Party.
An E-Mail from TikTok to its India employees should be noticed as it specifically states that all content which is against the Chinese government or about Dalai Lama and Tibet, must be removed from the platform. This is nothing but the China model of curbing freedom of speech as the CCP attempts to push its worldview through TikTok.
Its a separate argument how TikTok is the home to most cringe worthy content on the internet and how the Jihadis who promoted spitting and flouting of lockdown norms have been allowed to go scot free. However, if you dare utter a word against the Chinese Communist Party on the platform, there will be consequences which an American teenager found out the hard way. The teenager during a make-up tutorial on TikTok started talking about the plight of Uighur muslims in China which quickly went viral and was subsequently watched by millions. Feroza Aziz talked about how the Uighur muslims are separated from their families, kept in detention centres, and how they are kidnapped, murdered and raped and forced to eat pork at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.
Aziz cleverly used the make-up tutorial to escape content moderation to spread the word about the plight of Uighur muslims. However, the video went viral and TikTok wasted no time in suspending her account but was forced to restore after a massive backlash.
According to leaked documents, TikTok is instructing its moderators to censor videos that mention Tibetan independence, Tiananmen Square, or Falun Gong. This is a subtle attempt by the CCP to forward its foreign policy aims on foreign shores through the social media network.
Such is the hold of the CCP on TikTok that any content critical of China is covered under “hate speech and religion”. Any content related to the Tiananmen Square comes under “demonisation or distortion of local or other countries” while Falun Gong has been categorised as a “group promoting suicide” and videos promoting Falun Gong are labelled as “violation” and are immediately removed from the platform with the users also facing a ban from TikTok.
After the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests last year, TikTok claims that the moderation guidelines are now outdated and have adopted a new set of guidelines. The company said, “In TikTok’s early days we took a blunt approach to minimising conflict on the platform, and our moderation guidelines allowed penalties to be given for things like content that promoted conflict, such as between religious sects or ethnic groups, spanning a number of regions around the world. As TikTok began to take off globally last year, we recognised that this was not the correct approach, and began working to empower local teams that have a nuanced understanding of each market. As we’ve grown we’ve implemented this localised approach across everything from product, to team, to policy development.” It further added that, “The old guidelines in question are outdated and no longer in use.”
However, the leaked e-mail clearly shows that nothing has changed on the platform and there is no sort of localisation as claimed by the company as it can be clearly seen instructing its Indian employees to remove any content critical of China.
While the company claims that no moderators for TikTok’s US platform are based out of China, testimonies of former employees reveal otherwise as they clearly state that moderators in Beijing took the final call over flagged videos and repeated attempts too persuade the moderators to not remove certain videos were routinely ignored. The US lawmakers have already shown their concerns over the platform as they have asked to investigate “a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore.”
Just like China, TikTok doesn’t have an iota of transparency as it provides absolutely no data about the videos it has removed from the platform, and it also doesn’t share details about the AI tools that determine what viewers see.
Former Chief Security Officer at Facebook, Alex Stamos claims that there are legitimate concerns about the potential for user censorship and surveillance on the Chinese owned platform as he said that, “[TikTok] is operating under a political censorship regime and the Chinese government has no problem telling [its companies] where they should come down in political debates.”
“They want to be a global company, and numbers-wise, they’ve had that success. But the purse is still in China: The money always comes from China: The money always comes from there, and the decisions all come from there,” said a former manager at ByteDance.
In November 2019, Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Tom Cotton wrote a letter to the US intelligence officials requesting them to investigate whether TikTok poses “national security risks.” The Senators raised concern about how the platform collects data about US users which can be potentially shared with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok is also attempting to hoodwink the people by claiming that the company doesn’t operate in China and doesn’t intent to do so for the foreseeable future. However, it conveniently leaves out the fact that it operates in China under the name of “Douyin” which is also owned by ByteDance and is highly popular in China as almost one in 10 people in China have the Chinese version of TikTok.
In India, ByteDance also runs Helo which targets the teir-3 and tier-4 cities and is a regional language platform as it has 14 regional languages. It is deployed to take on Indian startup ShareChat, with the latter having accused the Chinese application of copying its design and infringing on its copyright in 2018. Helo has been recently spending heaps of money and getting all the Bollywood celebrities to interact with the users on the platform and is doing quite well as in July 2019, it had surpassed 50 million users and now has over 100 million users. It is yet not known whether the content moderation guidelines on the platform also pander to the CCP’s agenda but it will not be far fetched to say that Helo can also be potentially used by the CCP. The combination of TikTok and Helo gives a lot of power and data to China which doesn’t bode well for India.
In India, TikTok is infamous for the crass content it produces and that too on a mass scale. The unicorns exist in the TikTok world but they are very few and far in between. They more often than not plagiarize the content from YouTube and amass millions of views.
Ashish Chanchlani, a YouTuber, in an interview has described how his videos are duplicated, plagiarized, stolen and circulated on TikTok without giving any due credit. Chanchlani remarked, “I had made a horror video titled ‘Aakhri Safar’ on YouTube. The video got 11 million views on YouTube and somebody cut the videos in parts and posted it on TikTok and the video has a total of 100 million views including all the short clips.”
“So this particular angle I really hate. There have been a lot of times when content gets stolen. I have been trying to get it removed and nothing is happening and that is the reason I had to come on Tik Tok.” Chanchlani signed off saying he was disappointed by TikTok’s policies.
Last year, the Madras High Court had asked the centre to ban TikTok due to the dissemination of pornographic content on it. The court had shown concern about the app as it instigated suicidal instincts. The court also noticed that TikTok leads to child abuse by the sexual predators and pedophiles roaming scot-free on the Chinese platform.
Apps like TikTok, have been declared as Spywares, as they ask for unnecessary data and send it to the Chinese servers. A study commissioned by the Economic Times has seen that 69% of the data from these apps were transferred to US and also to 7 outside agencies.
The menace of TikTok should be completely banned until its content is moderated, its privacy policies made clear as China is attempting to push its worldview through the application.