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TikTok Suppressed Content From “Ugly,” Poor, and Disabled Users, Report Says

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  • 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.

Leaked Policies

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. 

TikTok’s Response

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)

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Kings of Leon Will Become One of the First Bands To Offer an Album as NFT

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  • The band Kings of Leon will release its new album Friday as a non-fungible token (NFT), making it among the first bands ever to release a full album in such a format. 
  • The album will also be released on Spotify and Apple Music on the same day in a more traditional format.
  • In recent days, celebrities such as Grimes and Logan Paul have made headlines for multi-million dollar earnings from sales of digital art and video NFTs, which are increasingly becoming viewed as a new form of collectors’ items.

Kings of Leon to Release NFT Album 

Kings of Leon will soon become one of the first bands in history to release an album as a non-fungible token (NFT).

While controversial, NFTs are gradually gaining prominence as a new form of collectors’ items, and the band’s new album, “When You See Yourself,” is no exception to that. 

Once it launches on Friday, it will be available for purchase in NFT form for two weeks. After that, no more NFTs of the album will ever be made. 

The exact same album will also be released on Spotify and Apple Music the same day. Unlike the NFTs, these versions of the album will still remain available to stream and purchase even after two weeks’ time.

So What Is an NFT?

There’s been a lot of confusion around NFTs in recent days, especially as more and more headlines tie major celebrities to them. 

For example, Grimes recently sold $6 million worth of NFTs as digital art. Meanwhile, YouTuber Logan Paul first sold $5 million worth of NFTs last month before then raking in another $880,000 from NFT sales.

Think of it this way: Money is fungible, meaning if you trade $1 with a friend, both of you still have a dollar at the end of the day. Millions of other people across the country also own similar dollars that carry the exact same value (some even have millions of dollars each, and I’m very jealous).

However, something is non-fungible when it has a unique identity and can’t be replaced in a trade. For example, you buy a handmade ceramic bowl that your friend made in her art class. No one else in the world will have that exact same piece of art as long as you retain ownership.

NFTs work in a similar way, except they deal strictly with digital files. For example, Logan Paul’s NFT sales page is filled with clips of Pokemon card pulls. Despite those clips being readily available on YouTube to anyone with internet access, some of them have nonetheless sold for up to $20,000.

“Total mint of 3 NFTs for this moment,” the description for his NFTs reads. “This product represents digital ownership of the NFT video of this moment only. This does not represent ownership in a card, a physical asset or of the YouTube video.”

That’s where this gets tricky. Consumers are buying a “moment” but not actually the copyright of the video or even the card featured in it. As mentioned earlier, despite owning the digital file of that moment, pretty much anyone can find a way to access or view it, depending on what it is.

In that sense, NFTs aren’t quite like platforms such as OnlyFans where users pay to view hidden content. 

To put it in terms of physical art collecting: anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original,” The Verge noted.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Rolling Stone) (The Guardian)

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Epic Games Acquires “Fall Guys” Maker Tonic Games Group

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  • Epic Games said Tuesday that it acquired Tonic Games Group, the parent company behind “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.” 
  • Under this deal, “Fall Guys” will have the backing to improve and potentially add cross-play features that exist in other games Epic owns, like “Fortnite” and “Rocket League.” 
  • For now, nothing in the game has changed, though the companies said they plan to bring it to Nintendo Switch and Xbox in the future.

Epic Games Buys “Fall Guys” Maker

Epic Games announced Tuesday that it acquired the parent company behind the popular game “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.”

That company is Tonic Games Group, which owns Mediatonic Games.

Epic Games did not release information about how much it paid for the deal when confirming it on its website.

As many online have noted, the family-friendly game seems like a good match for Epic, which has already had massive success with “Fortnite.”

The deal also adds to Epic’s growing portfolio of content. It already has its game-making software– the Unreal Engine as well as its own storefront– the Epic Games Store. It also has previous acquisitions including the video chatting app, House Party, and Psyonix, the game developer behind “Rocket League.”

What This Means for “Fall Guys”

Mediatonic, for its part, expressed excitement about having the backing to improve “Fall Guys” and bring it to more players. 

“Your gameplay isn’t changing and neither is our mission to bring Fall Guys to as many players as possible,” Mediatonic explained in a statement about the deal.

It also noted that the companies still plan to bring the game to Nintendo Switch and Xbox in the future.

For now, there’s been no word about whether “Fall Guys” will become free to play in the future, which Epic did with “Rocket League.”

Still, both companies have expressed interest in introducing cross-play and other features that “Fortnite” and “Rocket League” already have.

“Epic essentially becomes the equivalent of a digital theme park,” video game investor and start-up advisor Joost van Dreunen said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“It is developing a content portfolio that has an aesthetic consistency of bright, colorful, and fun online game play,” he added. “It stands to reason that large IP holders like Disney and others will want to explore releasing special events and activities.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Washington Post) (Variety)


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6 Dr. Seuss Books Won’t Be Published Anymore Because of Racist Imagery

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  • Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday.
  • The late author’s company said the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field. 
  • However, many school districts and groups have moved away from Dr. Seuss for years because of racist stereotypes and insensitive imagery in some of his work.

Production of Six Offensive Books To End

Six Dr. Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said Tuesday.

The list of books blocked from production are:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises wrote in its announcement letter. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Examples of Offending Content

A 2019 study published in the journal “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature,” looked at 50 books by Dr. Seuss and found 43 out of the 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism,” or the stereotypical, offensive portrayal of Asia. It added that the two “African” characters both have anti-Black characteristics.

The study even pointed to specific examples. “In (“The Cat’s Quizzer”), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji,” the authors wrote.

It also pointed to “If I Ran the Zoo” as an example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

“The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in ‘If I Ran the Zoo.’ The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance,” the study authors wrote. “The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell.'”

The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.

Academic Groups Move Away From Seuss

The company told the Associated Press that the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field.

Still, it’s worth noting that it also comes a week after a school district in Virginia made headlines for allegedly banning books written by Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.

The district eventually clarified that it was not banning his books. Instead, it said it was discouraging the connection between Dr. Seuss and “Read Across America Day,” which falls on the author’s birthday: March 2.

The decision to move away from Dr. Seuss books is not actually an uncommon move. School districts across the country have been doing the same.

The National Education Association, which founded “Read Across America Day” and deliberately aligned it with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, is included in that shift.

According to AP News, it’s been deemphasizing Seuss for years now and encouraging a more diverse reading list for kids.

While many have applauded Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision, others noted that it will continue to publish more popular books that have received criticism, including “The Cat in the Hat.”

For now, the company said it’s “committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Deadline) (AP News)

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