TikTok Suppressed Content From “Ugly,” Poor, and Disabled Users, Report Says
- 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)
TikTok to Require Labels on Manipulated Media, Ban Deepfakes of Children
The social media platform says it wants to embrace the creativity AI can offer while being cautious of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it.
TikTok is rolling out a slew of limitations regarding synthetic deepfake videos, including a ban on deepfake content of children.
In an update on Tuesday, the social media platform said it wants welcome “the creativity that new artificial intelligence and other digital technologies may unlock” while also being careful of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it. To mitigate those risks, TikTok will require users to label manipulated media depicting “realistic scenes.” Users can do so in stickers, captions, or other means that make it clear the video is “synthetic,” “fake,” “not real,” or “altered.”
On top of that, there are new restrictions about who can be the subject of these manipulated videos. TikTok will not allow deepfake media that shows the likeness of a “young person” or any private person, including adults. It is also barring deepfakes that depict adult public figures giving political or commercial endorsements, as well as deepfakes that violate one of the platform’s other rules.
“While we provide more latitude for public figures, we do not want them to be the subject of abuse, or for people to be misled about political or financial issues,” the company’s updated guidelines say.
As TikTok’s policies previously stated, synthetic media that has been edited to mislead audiences about real-world events is also not allowed on the platform.
As far as what kind of deepfake media is allowed on TikTok, the company said videos showing adult public figures in “certain contexts, including artistic and educational content,” get the green light. This can include a video of a celebrity doing a TikTok dance, or a historical figure being depicted in a history lesson.
The rules will be enforced starting April 21. Between now and then, TikTok says it will be training its moderators to better implement the guidelines.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Associated Press) (TechCrunch)
Adidas Financial Woes Continue, Company on Track for First Annual Loss in Decades
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
Adidas’ split with musician Kanye West has left the company with financial problems due to surplus Yeezy products, putting the sportswear giant in the position to potentially suffer its first annual loss in over 30 years.
Adidas dropped West last year after he made a series of antisemitic remarks on social media and other broadcasts. His Yeezy line was a staple for Adidas, and the surplus product is due, in part, to the brand’s own decision to continue production during the split.
According to CEO Bjorn Gulden, Adidas continued production of only the items already in the pipeline to prevent thousands of people from losing their jobs. However, that has led to the unfortunate overabundance of Yeezy sneakers and clothes.
On Wednesday, Gulden said that selling the shoes and donating the proceeds makes more sense than giving them away due to the Yeezy resale market — which has reportedly shot up 30% since October.
“If we sell it, I promise that the people who have been hurt by this will also get something good out of this,” Gulden said in a statement to the press.
However, Gulden also said that West is entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Yeezys per his royalty agreement.
Adidas announced in February that, following its divergence from West, it is facing potential sales losses totaling around $1.2 billion and profit losses of around $500 million.
If it decides to not sell any more Yeezy products, Adidas is facing a projected annual loss of over $700 million.
Outside of West, Adidas has taken several heavy profit blows recently. Its operating profit reportedly fell by 66% last year, a total of more than $700 million. It also pulled out of Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which cost Adidas nearly $60 million dollars. Additionally, China’s “Zero Covid” lockdowns last year caused in part a 36% drop in revenue for Adidas compared to years prior.
As a step towards a solution, Gulden announced that the company is slashing its dividends from 3.30 euros to 0.70 euro cents per share pending shareholder approval.
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
“Adidas has all the ingredients to be successful. But we need to put our focus back on our core: product, consumers, retail partners, and athletes,” Gulden said. “I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Elon Musk Bashes Disabled Ex-Twitter Employee, Gets Blowback
After Musk claimed the former employee “did no actual work,” the staffer calmly directed passive-aggressive insults right back at the billionaire.
Excuse Me, Do I Still Work Here?
Elon Musk brawled online with a former Twitter employee who didn’t know whether he was fired Tuesday, accusing the staffer of exploiting his disability.
Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, who has muscular dystrophy, joined Twitter in 2021 after it acquired the creative agency he founded: Ueno.
He said on Twitter that he was unable to confirm whether he was still a Twitter employee nine days after being locked out of his work computer, despite reaching out to the head of HR and Musk himself through email.
At the time, Twitter had laid off at least 200 workers, or some 10% of its remaining workforce.
In search of an answer, Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk, who responded with the question: “What work have you been doing?”
After being given permission by Musk to break confidentiality, Thorleifsson listed several of his accomplishments, including leading “design crits to help level up design across the company.”
“Level up from what design to what? Pics or it didn’t happen,” Musk replied.
“We haven’t hired design roles in 4 months. What changes did you make to help with the youths?”
Thorleifsson reminded Musk that he couldn’t access any pictures because he was locked out of his work computer.
Musk stopped replying to the tweets, but hours later he returned to the platform to lob invective at his former employee.
Musk Vs. Halli
“The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm,” Musk tweeted, apparently referring to Thorleifsson. “Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”
“But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place,” he added.
In a later Twitter thread, Thorleifsson said he could type for one or two hours at a time before his hands cramped, but that in pre-Musk Twitter, that wasn’t a problem because he was a senior director.
He added that despite his crippling disability, he worked hard for years to build Ueno.
“We grew fast and made money,” he said. “I think that’s what you are referring to when you say independently wealthy? That I independently made my money, as opposed to say, inherited an emerald mine.”
Thorleifsson made several more passive-aggressive jabs at Musk.
“I joined at a time when the company was growing fast,” he wrote. “You kind of did the opposite. The company had a fair amount of issues, but then again, most bigger companies do. Or even small companies, like Twitter today.”
Thorleifsson said that immediately following his back-and-forth with Musk, Twitter’s head of HR confirmed that he had indeed been fired from the company.