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Australian Think Tank Accuses TikTok of Wide-Scale Censorship in New Report

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  • TikTok is being accused of censoring content worldwide, despite its past claims that it doesn’t.
  • In a 75-page report, an Australian defense-ministry think tank claimed that LGTBQ+ issues, issues relating to U.S. protests, and criticisms of certain governments are all repressed on the platform.
  • TikTok is accused of approaching censorship from a variety of angles, either by wholesale banning a phrase, or shadow banning the phrase behind certain languages.
  • On top of this, TikTok’s sale to a U.S. company ran into a major speed bump after China made it clear that it ould block the sale over concerns about selling off artificial intelligence

TikTok Still Censoring?

A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) accuses TikTok of continued censorship and shadow banning.

The platform has previously denied similar accusations of censorship, but this report details multiple methods the app allegedly used to restrict content, whether through blatantly banning certain phrases, to more subtly banning shadow banning other content.

For example, TikTok seems to be avoiding Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws that prohibit any speech that could possibly be negative about the monarchy. To that end, across the platform, #สมเด็จพระเจ้าลูกเธอเจ้าฟ้าสิริวัณณวรีนารีรัตนราชกัญญา (#PrincessSirivannavariNariratanaRajakanya) comes up empty.

Other hashtags, like #กษัตริย์มีไว้ทําไม (#WhyDoWeNeedAKing), were confirmed by Rogue Rocket to come up empty across the platform, despite it being widely popular with Thai activists on other platforms like Twitter.

The platform, in general, seems wary of laws that prohibit criticism of governments. Other than Thailand, Russia passed a controversial law in 2019 that also bans negative speech about the government. Despite this, #путинвор (“Putin is a thief”) is prevalent on Twitter. Twitter is still available in Russia, yet on TikTok, no results appear.

More Than Just Lèse-Majesté

This censorship isn’t just limited to TikTok trying to avoid running afoul of laws in certain countries. TikTok is also accused of censoring topics that are U.S.-based. For example, #acab (All Cops Are Bastards) was suppressed in the early days of the George Floyd protest. It wasn’t until May 29 that TikTok finally allowed protest-based content.

However, according to ASPI, #acab was censored again after more anti-racism and anti-police protests erupted in response to the situation in Kenosha. Although after checking the tag, Rogue Rocket found that it seems to work.

TikTok has also taken another approach to censoring content: by language. LGBTQ+ issues seem to be the issues primarily censored this way. This is in stark contrast to recent history, when TikTok seemingly reversed course and allowed LGBTQ+ content after a public outcry in 2019.

ASPI found that typing “gay” in other scripts, such as the cryllic scripts used by Russian, Ukrainian, and other former Soviet states, yields no easily accesible results.

The same is true when typing the word and other LGTBQ+ topics in Arabic, Estonian, and Bosnian, as well as other LGBTQ+ topics.

Source: ASPI ICPC pg. 10

The report bashes TikTok for this approach in particular, because it doesn’t just affect people within countries that may have laws prohibiting this speech, but anyone in the world who speaks a particular language.

However, the reports does clarify that even though the tag “gay” can’t easily appear in search results, a motivated user could post their own video, use the tag, then click it to find videos with 130 million views.

When double-checking this, Rogue Rocket found that #гей works as any other uncensored tag would.

Screenshot taken September 9, 2020

Among other things, ASPI also accuses TikTok of acting as a front for Chinese propaganda. Tags relating to Xinjiang and the malreatment of Uyghurs by the Chinese government used to be censored as late as November 2019, but following a Vice Germany report, that decision was reversed.

The ASPI report found that as of early August 2020, there were 444 publicly visible videos using the tag #Xinjiang, but despite how controversial the situation is, only 5.6% of the videos were critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies.

The report states this is “an unusually small number, given the debate over the topic on other platforms. Of the top 20videos with the highest ranking on the hashtag, only one is critical of the CCP. Seven are either denialist videos or videos promoting conspiracy theories about Beijing’s extrajudicial incarceration of more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.”

ASPI figure detailing the breakdown of the top 100 #Xinjiang videos.

These issues also largely apply to WeChat, the Chinese messaging platform. Frankly, WeChat has been known to be censored worldwide and the app doesn’t really try to say otherwise, often warning users if they are breaking certain censorship rules.

Future of TikTok

This report likely won’t help TikTok gain much sympathy from the Trump administration and could be used by officials as further ‘proof’ that TikTok is dangerous, but TikTok might have bigger fish to fry.

During all of this, there is still TikTok’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s executive order which would ban it. There’s also the potential sale of many parts of the app to an American company in order to skirt US accusations that the app reports to CCP officials and overly tracks user data for the benefit of Chinese authorities. That last point actually ran into an issue recently.

Last week, China announced new export rules that would allow it to effectively block the sale of TikTok. The new rules are meant to protect Chinese artificial intelligence technology, and “cover such computing and data-processing technologies as text analysis, content recommendation, speech modeling and voice-recognition.”

“Content Recommendation” is extremely important to TikTok’s success, which features an algorithm that has been great at pushing forward fresh and relevant content to users.

The company may end up in a situation where it finds a U.S. buyer, but then the Chinese government and says “sorry, you can’t sell this tech to an American company.”

This isn’t completely unheard of. The U.S. government did something similar when it forced a Shanghai-based company to sell the U.S.-based Grindr.

See What Others Are Saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Bloomberg) (Business Insider)

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Kim Kardashian to Pay $1.26 Million to SEC Over Unlawful Crypto Promotion

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According to the agency, stars and influencers must disclose how much money they earned for crypto advertising. 


Kardashian Pays Up

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday that it has charged reality TV star Kim Kardashian for “unlawfully touting crypto security.”

Kardashian has agreed to pay $1.26 million in penalties, disgorgement, and interest while cooperating with the SEC’s investigation. The media mogul did not admit to or deny the SEC’s findings as part of the settlement, but she did agree to not promote crypto assets for three years. 

According to a statement from the SEC, federal regulators found that Kardashian “failed to disclose that she was paid $250,000 to publish a post on her Instagram account about EMAX tokens.”

“This case is a reminder that, when celebrities or influencers endorse investment opportunities, including crypto asset securities, it doesn’t mean that those investment products are right for all investors,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement. 

The investigation stemmed from a post that Kardashian made on her Instagram story in the summer of 2021 promoting EthereumMax. In it, she asked her 330 million followers if they were interested in cryptocurrency while giving information about the coin. The post included a swipe-up link for users to get more information and potentially invest in it themselves. 

While Kardashian did include a hashtag denoting the post as an ad, the SEC said that did not go far enough. In the group’s statement, Gurbir S. Grewal, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, explained that anyone advertising crypto assets “must disclose the nature, source, and amount of compensation they received in exchange for the promotion.”

A “Reminder” For Crypto Promoters 

As a result, the billionaire businesswoman is paying a $1 million penalty fee. On top of that, she has to pay $260,000 in disgorgement, accounting for the payment she received from Ethereum Max and interest. 

Kardashian’s lawyer released a statement saying the star has “fully cooperated with the SEC from the very beginning.”

“She remains willing to do whatever she can to assist the SEC in this matter,” the statement continued. “She wanted to get this matter behind her to avoid a protracted dispute. The agreement she reached with the SEC allows her to do that so that she can move forward with her many different business pursuits.”

This is not the first time Kardashian’s EMAX post landed her in hot water. A U.K. watchdog previously condemned her for shilling the coin, and she was sued earlier this year over allegations that she artificially inflated the coin’s value. 

Gensler said that he hopes the charges from the SEC will serve as “a reminder to celebrities and others that the law requires them to disclose to the public when and how much they are paid to promote investing in securities.”

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (NPR) (Axios)

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Misinformation Makes Up 20% of Top Search Results For Current Events on TikTok, New Research Finds

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According to the report, the app “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”


Misinformation Thrives on TikTok

As TikTok becomes Gen Z’s favorite search engine, new research by journalism and tech group NewsGuard found that the video app frequently suggests misinformation to users searching for news-related topics. 

NewsGuard used TikTok’s search bar to look up trending news subjects like the 2020 election, COVID-19, the invasion of Ukraine, the upcoming midterms, abortion, school shootings, and more. It analyzed 540 videos based on the top 20 results from 27 subject searches, finding false or misleading claims in 105 of those posts. 

In other words, roughly 20% of the results contained misinformation. 

Some of NewsGuard’s searches contained neutral phrases and words like “2022 election” or “mRNA vaccine,” while others were loaded with more controversial language like “January 6 FBI” or “Uvalde TX conspiracy.” In many cases, those controversial phrases were suggested by TikTok’s own search bar. 

The researchers noted that, for example, during a search on climate change, “climate change debunked” showed up. While looking up COVID-19 vaccines, searches for “covid vaccine injury” or “covid vaccine exposed” were recommended.

Dangerous Results Regarding Health and More

The consequences of some of the false claims made in these videos can be severe. NewsGuard wrote in its report that the search engine “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”

Among the hoards of hazardous health claims were videos falsely suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines are toxic and cause permanent damage to organs. The report found that there are still several videos touting the anti-parasite hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all remedy, not just for COVID, but for any illness. 

Searches regarding herbal abortions were particularly troublesome. While certain phrases like “mugwort abortion” were blocked, the researchers found several ways around this that lead to multiple videos touting debunked DIY abortion remedies that are not only proven to be ineffective, but can also pose serious health risks. 

NewsGuard claimed that the social media app vowed to remove this content in July, but “two months later, herbal abortion content continues to be easily accessible on the platform.”

Other standard forms of conspiracy fodder also occupied space in top search results, including claims that the Uvalde school shooting was planned and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. 

TikTok’s Search Engine Vs. Google

As part of its research, NewsGuard compared TikTok’s search results and suggestions with Google and found that, by comparison, the latter “provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”

“For example, searching ‘covid vaccine’ on Google prompted ‘walk-in covid vaccine,’ ‘which covid vaccine is best,’ and ‘types of covid vaccines,’” NewsGuard wrote. “None of these terms was suggested by TikTok.”

This is significant because recent reports show that young Internet users have increasingly turned to TikTok as a search engine over Google. While this might elicit safe results for pasta recipes and DIY tutorials, for people searching for current affairs, there could be significant consequences. 

NewsGuard said that it flagged six videos containing misinformation to TikTok, and the social media app ended up taking those posts down. In a statement to Mashable, the company pledged to fight against misinformation on its platform. 

“Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform,” the statement said. “We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and partner with independent fact-checkers who help us to assess the accuracy of content.”

See what others are saying: (Mashable) (CNN) (USA Today)

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Over 70 TikTok Creators Boycott Amazon as Workers Protest Conditions and Pay

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As the company fends off pressure on both fronts, the Amazon Labor Union continues to back election petitions around the country including one filed Tuesday in upstate New York.


Gen Z Goes to War With Amazon

More than 70 big TikTok creators have pledged not to work with Amazon until it gives in to union workers’ demands, including calls for higher pay, safer working conditions, and increased paid time off.

Twenty-year-old TikToker Elise Joshi, who serves as deputy executive director for the advocacy group organizing the boycott, Gen Z for Change, posted an open letter on Twitter Tuesday.

“Dear Amazon.com,” it reads, “We are a coalition of over 70 TikTok creators with a combined following of 51 million people. Today, August 16th, 2022, we are joining together in solidarity with Amazon workers and union organizers through our People Over Prime Pledge.”

Amazon has refused to recognize the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) since workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse in April, and it has resisted collective bargaining negotiations.

Although the ALU is not involved in the boycott, its co-founder and interim President Chris Smalls expressed support for it in a statement to The Washington Post, saying, “It’s a good fight to take on because Amazon definitely is afraid of how we used TikTok during our campaigns.”

While the ALU posts videos on TikTok to drum up popular support for the labor movement, Amazon has sought to win large influencers over to its side. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Influencer Program, which offered influencers the opportunity to earn revenue by recommending products in personalized Amazon storefronts.

Last May, the company flew over a dozen Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok stars to a luxurious resort in Mexico.

Emily Rayna Shaw, a TikTok creator with 5.4 million followers who has partnered with Amazon in the past, is participating in the boycott.

“I think their method of offering influencers life-changing payouts to make them feel as if they need to work with them while also refusing to pay their workers behind the scenes is extremely wrong,” she told The Post.

“As an influencer, it’s important to choose the right companies to work with,” said Jackie James, a 19-year-old TikTok creator with 3.4 million followers, who told the outlet she will cease doing deals with Amazon until it changes its ways.

The ALU is demanding that Amazon bump its minimum wage to $30 per hour and stop its union-busting activities.

Slogging Through the ‘Suffocating’ Heat

Amazon is also facing challenges from workers themselves, with some walking out this week at its largest air hub in California, where company-branded planes transport packages to warehouses across the country.

They are asking for the base pay rate to be raised from $17 per hour to $22 per hour.

A group organizing the work stoppage under the name Inland Empire Amazon Workers United said in a statement that over 150 workers participated, but Amazon countered that the true number was only 74.

The Warehouse Worker Resource Center counted 900 workers who signed a petition demanding pay raises.

Inland Empire Amazon Workers United has complained about the “suffocating” heat in the facility, saying that temperatures at the San Bernardino airport reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 24 days last month.

Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan, however, claimed to CNBC that the temperature never surpassed 77 degrees and said the company respects its workers’ right to voice their opinions.

On Tuesday, the ALU backed another warehouse’s decision to file a petition for a union election in upstate New York, roughly 10 miles outside Albany.

The National Labor Relations Board requires signatures from 30% of employees to trigger an election.

See what others are Saying: (The Washington Post (CNBC) (Associated Press)

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