- A report from The Intercept claimed that in an effort to attract new users, TikTok had policies in place for its moderators to suppress content from users deemed “ugly,” poor, or disabled.
- The documents also showed that TikTok outlined bans to be placed on users who criticized “political or religious leaders” or “endangered national honor.”
- Sources said the policies were created last year and were in use as recently as the end of 2019.
- A TikTok spokesperson said the majority of the guidelines were never in use or are no longer in use, but the ones targeting users’ appearances were aimed at preventing bullying.
- However, the documents reviewed by The Intercept do not explicitly mention anti-bullying efforts.
Newly released documents reveal that TikTok creators directed their moderators to censor posts from users believed to be poor, disabled, or “ugly,” among other guidelines.
The leaked policies were first reported by The Intercept on Monday, exposing an inconsistency within the highly popular video-sharing app whose tagline is “Real People. Real Videos.” However, based on this recently-exposed information, it seems like TikTok only wants to funnel certain types of “real people” on the “For You” feed, its page dedicated to promoting select content to its millions of users.
The Intercept noted that the documents appear to have originally been printed in Chinese — the language of the app’s home country — but had been translated into sometimes-choppy English for global distribution. Of the multiple pages of policies the news outlet posted, one outlines characteristics that the app considers undesirable such as “abnormal body shape, chubby, have obvious beer belly, obese, or too thin.”
The rules also encourage restrictions of “ugly facial looks” including wrinkles, noticeable scars, and physical disabilities. Criteria for the backgrounds of videos were also included in the policies, discouraging “shabby and dilapidated” environments including slums, dirty and messy settings, and old decorations.
As far as the reasoning for these guidelines, TikTok wrote: “If the character’s appearance or the shooting environment is not good, the video will be much less attractive, not [worthy] to be recommended to new users.”
A spokesperson for the app told The Verge that the guidelines reported by The Intercept are regional and “were not for the U.S. market.”
The other policies that The Intercept released detail more types of content that should be banned across the platform, including defamation or criticism of “civil servants, political or religious leaders,” as well as family members of these leaders. Moderators were instructed to punish any users who “endang[er] national honor” or distort “local or other countries’ history,” using May 1998 riots in Indonesia, Cambodian genocide, and Tiananmen Square incidents as examples.
The Intercept reported that sources told them the policies were created last year and were in use until at least late 2019.
A spokesperson for the app told The Intercept that “most of” these exposed rules “are either no longer in use, or in some cases appear to never have been in place.”
The spokesperson also told the outlet that the policies geared toward suppressing disabled, seemingly impoverished, or unattractive users “represented an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying, but are no longer in place, and were already out of use when The Intercept obtained them.”
These intentions have been pushed by the platform in the past — in December, TikTok admitted that at one point they prevented the spread of videos from disabled, LGBTQ, or overweight users, claiming it was an attempt to curb bullying.
A TikTok spokesperson told The Intercept that these newly-released policies “appear to be the same or similar” as the ones revealed in December, but the guidelines published this week are notably different — they don’t mention anti-bullying motives and instead focus on how to appeal to more users.
Criticism of TikTok’s Moderation and App’s Response
TikTok has faced scrutiny in the past for appearing to censor certain content, including pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and criticism of the Chinese government.
It’s also worth noting that the app has been under fire for its data-sharing policies and the U.S. government has even suggested this is a national security threat.
TikTok said this week that it will stop using China-based moderators to review overseas content, noting that these employees hadn’t been monitoring content in U.S. regions.
And in further attempts to counter the criticism of their moderation tactics, TikTok announced last week that it plans to open a “transparency center” in Los Angeles in May. This center will allow outside observers to better understand how the platform moderates its content.
See what others are saying: (The Intercept) (The Verge) (Business Insider)
Perfume Brand Apologizes for Replacing John Boyega in the Chinese Version of an Ad He Directed
- Jo Malone London, a perfume and candle brand, apologized to its global brand ambassador John Boyega after it reshot his personal advert without him for the Chinese market.
- Last year, Boyega conceived, starred in, and directed a commercial for the band, which showcased his friends and family and was shot in his diverse hometown on Peckham, London.
- Without Boyega’s knowledge, the company replicated the concept with Chinese actor Liu Haoran and did not feature a single Black person in the remake.
- After backlash, Jo Malone London apologized and said, “The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
The perfume and candle brand Jo Malone London apologized to actor John Boyega after it replicated the personal advert he made for the company without him for the Chinese market.
In 2019, the brand named the Star Wars actor its first male global ambassador. Under the role, Boyega shot an advert for the company based on his roots and personal experiences.
The short film was called, “A London Gent,” and according to several reports, it was his creative concept and a project he directed. It showcased him enjoying time with his real-life friends and family in his diverse hometown of Peckham, London.
“There’s a mixture of things you see me do in the film, you see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family and it’s about breaking free of the concept of ‘going back or returning to your roots’ but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life,” he said of the commercial last year in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
The commercial was well received and actually won Best Media Campaign at The Fragrance Foundation Awards this year. Still, the brand decided to essentially replicate the commercial for the Chinese market without Boyega’s knowledge or participation.
Instead of just using Boyega’s original ad, it replaced him with Chinese actor Liu Haoran, star of the hugely popular Detective Chinatown film franchise. Boyega’s friends and family were replaced as well, which means there was not a single Black person included in the Chinese ad.
Though it’s not totally identical, it’s clear the commercial reused the same concept –minus the diversity elements. It even replicates some specific scenes like one where the camera zooms into Boyega’s eye and another where he rides a horse while his friends ride bikes.
On top of all that, the Chinese ad is also called “A London Gent,” and according to The Hollywood Reporter, Boyega only found out about this after it was put on Twitter.
Boyega hasn’t officially commented on the issue, but he’s definitely aware of the backlash. He retweeted one user who shared his ad saying, “Now, this man needs to be properly compensated for the thievery! No apology is good enough.”
That article includes a statement from the brand which reads: “We deeply apologize for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign. John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
Joe Malone also apologized to Haoran, saying he was not involved in the conception of the Chinese ad.
“While we immediately took action and removed the local version of the campaign, we recognize that this was painful and that offense was caused,” it continued.
“We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.”
Boyega’s Past Experiences
This is not the first time Boyega has sparked discussions about racism in China and the entertainment industry. In 2015, when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released, Boyega’s character was resized to be significantly smaller on the Chinese version of the movie poster.
In a recent GQ interview, Boyega also criticized Disney, saying nonwhite characters were pushed aside in the Star Wars franchise while white characters were given more nuance.
“What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up,” he said at the time.
As for Jo Malone, it has pulled the Chinese advert, but it’s unclear if Boyega’s relationship with the brand will continue.
See what others are saying: (Insider) (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter)
AmazonBasics Products Dangerous, Start Fires & Explode: Report
- A report by CNN has found that dozens of AmazonBasics items are dangerously flawed, leading to fires and explosions.
- 1500 reviews were found across 70 items citing dangerous flaws in the products between 2016-2020, despite Amazon saying many of these items were investigated and found to be safe.
- Currently, dozens of items are still available on the site that have been flagged by users as dangerous and potential fire hazards.
Ever seen a listing for a common everyday item on Amazon and thought, “that price is too good to be true?” Well, that may be the case. CNN reported on Thursday at least 70 items that are part of Amazon’s AmazonBasic line are fatally flawed; particularly electronics which are reported to have started hundreds of fires.
One story from Wethersfield, Connecticut features a young man who was burned after being awoken by a chair in his bedroom that was on fire. Firefighters determined that a white AmazonBasics USB cord used to charge his phone had shorted and started the fire. Other items sold under the AmazonBasics label — which was set up in 2009 and sells thousands of everyday items for cheap — have been reported in reviews to catch fire. A microwave sold under the label has over 150 reviews describing safety concerns over the device, notably pointing out its proclivity to catch fire.
CNN obtained a few defective devices from customers and sent them off to a lab in Maryland to be tested and find out why it happens so often. That research was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the case of the burning microwaves, initial findings revealed that they featured a fatal design on a panel that covered a heating device and could start fires.
Other common items that were reported to have caught fire include power strips and car chargers. Overall, according to CNN, 1,500 reviews between 2016 and 2020 by US customers identified safety concerns from AmazonBasics products, with 10% of reviews specifically mentioning the items catching fire.
“Safe to Use”
Amazon’s initial response to the report is that some of the items identified were investigated and found to be “safe to use.”
“We take several steps to ensure our products are safe including rigorous testing by our safety teams and third party labs,” the company said in a statement to The HIll. “The appliance continues to meet or exceed all certification requirements established by the FDA, UL, FCC, Prop 65, and others for safety and functionality.”
“We’re continuously refining our processes and leveraging new technologies to ensure that AmazonBasics products are safe for their intended use. We want customers to shop our products with confidence, and if there’s ever a concern, you can contact our customer service team and we’ll promptly investigate,” The company added in a blog they posted as a response to the CNN report.
Currently, about 30 items with three or more reviews that identified dangerous flaws remain on the site. This could lead to large legal problems for the company. In the past, various courts have ruled and upheld that Amazon is not liable for defective items sold by third-party vendors on the platform. However, AmazonBasics are branded in-house items (although Amazon doesn’t manufacture these items).
Being in-house items may mean that unlike third-party vendors, Amazon possibly is not shielded by the same protections and could be liable for the destruction caused by said devices.
Epic Games Will Soon Lose Access to Apple’s Sign-In Feature
- In early August, Epic Games’ Fortnite was removed from Apple’s App Store after the gaming company tried to bypass Apple’s required 30% commission. The situation led to a lawsuit from Epic.
- Apple retaliated by attempting to block Epic’s Unreal Engine from being accessed by iOS developers. It also issued a countersuit and will revoke Epic Games Store users’ ability to use their Apple accounts to sign in.
- Epic Games has accused Apple of being a monopoly, saying that only allowing one app store on its devices and requiring a 30% commission is stifling competition.
- Fortnite being effectively removed from iOS means that nearly one-third of all Fortnite accounts are in limbo, which could be a major financial setback for Epic Games.
Epic Games Stirring Trouble With Apple
The battle between Apple and Epic Games reached new heights on Wednesday after Apple decided that users wouldn’t be allowed to use the “Sign In with Apple” feature to access their Epic Games account, regardless of what device they are on.
This is just the latest move in an on-going corporate feud between the tech giants that started on August 13. At that time, Epic Games tried to allow iOS users of their game Fortnite to bypass the App Store payment system and pay Epic directly, at a discounted rate.
Epic justified the discount by pointing out that Apple takes a 30% commission on all purchases through the App Store. In response to Epic Games’ move, Apple removed Fortnite from the App store. It’s widely assumed that this is what Epic wanted because it quickly released a video calling Apple a monopoly as well as a lawsuit ready to be filed.
Epic tried the same maneuver on Google’s Play Store and was similarly booted off the platform, embroiling the gaming company in another lawsuit.
Continued Escalations and Tit-for-Tats
Since Epic Games first took Apple to court, the two have further escalated tensions with accusations, countersuits, and petty retaliation.
On August 17, Apple extended its ban beyond Fortnite, targeting Epic’s Unreal Engine – a graphics engine that not only powers CGI for films and TV shows like “The Mandalorian,” but is also a cornerstone in the gaming industry. Apple told the company that unless it reversed course, Unreal Engine would also be removed by August 28. Removing its access to the App Store would mean countless iOS game developers would be left without a graphics engine for their games.
On August 24, the courts issued a series of early rulings that let both sides claim a victory. In a win for Epic Games, Apple was blocked from removing the Unreal Engine from the App Store; however, Apple was allowed to remove Epic Games’ own accounts from the App Store for a year.
Apple, for its part, thought the lawsuit and situation were ridiculous and could be easily resolved, telling The Verge, “The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers.”
Since then, things haven’t looked so great for Epic. The 116 million iOS users account for about one-third of all Fortnite accounts, but there’s been about a 60% decrease in iOS players since Apple blocked Epic from accessing its developer accounts.
In a September 5 court filing, Epic again asked the court to force Apple into allowing it back onto the App Store, arguing the loss of access to iOS players will do irreparable damage, writing, “Epic may never see these users again. It will also be denied the opportunity to access even a single new user among the one-billion-plus iOS users for at least the next year.”
While all that is happening, Apple upped the ante and hit Epic Games with a counter suit seeking punitive damages. The company claims that Epic trying to allow users to go around the App Store’s 30% commissions “…was little more than theft.”
Apple also says that “Epic’s lawsuit is nothing more than a basic disagreement over money. Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store.”
The company is asking the court to force Epic to pay it all the money Epic earned from iOS users who used the option to not pay the 30% commission.
Finally, in what’s being described as a petty move by Apple, Epic Games revealed that “Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Epic Games accounts using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020.”
“If you used “Sign In with Apple”, please make sure your email and password are up to date,” it added in a statement Wednesday.
This decision could affect more players than just those who use an iOS device, as many players use this feature to login into their Fortnite and Epic Games’ account across multiple devices. For those with Epic Games accounts: if you still want access to your Epic Games account after Thursday, make sure you go to your Epic account and change your info, otherwise you’ll be effectively blocked from logging in starting tomorrow.
The entire situation will likely see another big update near the end of September when lawyers from the two companies will appear back in court for their next hearing.
Google Trying to Distance Themselves
During all of this there’s also a lawsuit between Epic Games and Google that largely revolves around the same issue: Google Play requires a 30% commission, Epic says that’s way too much, tried to side step it, and lost access to its accounts.
Google, however, is trying to make sure the courts don’t apply any decisions between the Apple and Epic Games lawsuit to their situation by arguing that Android allows users to access multiple app stores and even download apps directly from developers.
That means that Epic’s argument against Apple – namely that its an alleged monopoly because apps can only be accessed through the official App Store – shouldn’t apply to the situation between Google and Epic.