Australian Think Tank Accuses TikTok of Wide-Scale Censorship in New Report
- 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.
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.
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.”
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)
Amazon to Pay Over $30 Million for Alexa and Ring Privacy Violations
Privacy violation charges stack up against the tech giant as the FTC partners up with the DOJ.
Amazon Pays Up
Amazon agreed to a $30 million settlement for each of these complaints over complaints alleging that its Alexa and Ring products violated customer privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department accused Amazon of retaining children’s geolocation data as well as the recordings of their conversations with Alexa. Additionally, the FTC brought another complaint against Amazon’s Ring for violating their customers’ privacy and failing to complement basic security measures.
In addition to the accusations of retaining data, the FTC also charges Amazon with deceiving their customers, saying requests from parents to delete their children’s recordings and other data went ignored despite repeated assurances that parents can delete the data at any time.
Amazon says this data was retained to train their Alexa algorithms to better understand children. But their reasoning does not change law. Their actions are still in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA.
“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits,” said Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in the press release regarding the complaint. “COPPA does not allow companies to keep children’s data forever for any reason, and certainly not to train their algorithms.”
The Settlement’s Details
The proposed settlement that Amazon agreed to on Wednesday includes a $25 million civil penalty as well as requirements to both delete the data in question and never use voice recordings of adults or children in the development or creation of a product again.
However approval on this settlement is still needed from the federal courts.
Despite agreeing to the settlement, Amazon denies violating COPPA, saying they designed Amazon Kids for parents to have full control and to comply with the law.
In their complaint against Ring, the FTC accused the company of violating their customers’ privacy by allowing countless employees and hundreds of contractors access to the videos from Ring cameras.
Leading to situations like one in 2017, when a Ring employee watched thousands of videos belonging to dozens of female customers, including those in their bedrooms and bathrooms.
Additionally, the FTC says that Ring did not implement basic security protections for years which allowed hackers to take control of their customers’ accounts, cameras, and videos leading to 55,000 US Ring customers facing hacker attacks. In some cases, hackers could access Ring’s two-way functions to harass, insult, and threaten people – including children. The complaint alleges that Ring’s egregious privacy failings lasted for at least 4 years – between at least 2016 to 2020.
Amazon responded to the complaint saying that RIng had addressed the concerns before the FTC even began their inquiry.
The FTC proposed a settlement of $5.8 million in consumer refunds – as well as a demand for Ring to create a privacy and security program. The settlement also awaits federal court approval.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Axios) (CNBC)
Right-Wingers Are Turning Against Chick-fil-A
Some have accused the company of joining a woke “cult” after learning of its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.
Chick-fil-A Goes “Woke”
Conservatives are condemning Chick-fil-A after learning of the fast food chain’s commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Some have accused the brand of bowing “to the Woke mob.” Others have debated boycotting the chain.
It’s unclear when exactly Chick-fil-A began its DEI campaign, but according to LinkedIn, the current Vice President of DEI, Erick McReynolds, has been working in the department since 2020 before taking on his current role in 2021. It is also unclear why right-wingers on Twitter have just now discovered Chick-fil-A’s DEI website, but many spent a chunk of Tuesday morning lambasting the company for working to promote diversity.
Chick-fil-A’s DEI page is titled “Committed to being Better at Together.”
“Modeling care for others starts in the restaurant, and we are committed to ensuring mutual respect, understanding and dignity everywhere we do business,” McReynolds said in a statement on the website.
Chick-fil-A is no stranger to boycott campaigns, though those efforts usually come from the opposite side of the political aisle. The company, known for its strong Christian ties, has been criticized for donating to groups with anti-LGBTQ missions. As a result, many on the left have refused to eat there, while it has been a haven for those on the right.
Conservatives, however, have become increasingly outraged by DEI initiatives. Chick-fil-A’s website, which only vaguely outlines its DEI efforts, still seems to be enough for the right to change its tune about the brand.
“Even our beloved Chick-Fil-A has fallen to the DEI cult,” one person tweeted. “the same agenda that is turning our beloved military woke.”
“It’s becoming an epidemic that even Christian companies are being strong-armed to participate in,” the tweet continued.
Old Clip of Chairman Resurfaces
Some have also started resurfacing an old clip of Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy speaking on a panel about racism during the summer of 2020. During the discussion, he talked about repentance and said that if you ever see someone who needs their shoes shined, you should do it. He then walked over to a Black person on the panel, got on his knees, and shined their shoes.
“There’s a time in which we need to have, you know, some personal action here, and maybe we need to give them a hug, too,” Cathy said while shining the shoes.
“I bought about 1,500 of these and I gave them to all our Chick-fil-A operators and staff a number of years ago,” Cathy continued, in reference to his shoe-shining brush. “So, any expressions of a contrite heart, of a sense of humility, a sense of shame, a sense of embarrassment begat with an apologetic heart — I think that’s what our world needs to hear today.”
The clip caused a stir when the events first unfolded, and has prompted a new wave of anger now. Some are accusing Cathy of being “a woke, anti-American, anti-white BLM boot licker” who thinks all white people need to shamefully shine the shoes of Black people to apologize for racism, though that is not what he said.
These boycott calls are just the latest from conservatives who have been on a rampage against any company supporting any social cause they deem as “woke.” Earlier this year, the political right took a stand against Bud Light after it included a trans influencer in a sponsored Instagram post. Just last week, Target and Kohls faced boycotts over items in their Pride Month collections.
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Rolling Stone) (AL)
Bioré Apologizes For Referencing School Shooting in Mental Health Ad Campaign
“Our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry,” the skincare brand said.
Video Faces Backlash
The skincare brand Bioré apologized this week for partnering with a school shooting survivor as part of its Mental Health Awareness Month campaign.
“We are committed to continuing our mental health mission, but we promise to do it in a better way,” the company said in an Instagram post on Sunday.
Last week, influencer and recent Michigan State University graduate Cecilee Max-Brown posted a video to TikTok sponsored by Bioré where she discussed the numerous challenges she had faced throughout the year. Among them was a school shooting on her college’s campus, which killed three people in February.
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year, from the school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Max-Brown says in the video. “In honor of mental health awareness month, I’m partnering with Bioré skin care to strip away the stigma of anxiety.
“We want you to get it all out, not only what’s in your pores, but most importantly, what’s on your mind, too,” she continued.
In the 50-second video, Max-Brown went on to discuss more details about her mental health struggles, as well as how “seeing the effects of gun violence firsthand” has impacted her and led to “countless anxiety attacks.”
“I will never forget the feeling of terror that I had walking around campus for weeks in a place I considered home,” she said before closing the video by encouraging her followers to participate in Bioré’s mental health campaign.
The video ignited swift outrage from people who accused Bioré of using a school shooting to sell products. In its apology, the brand admitted the video was misguided.
In the past, Bioré said it has worked with influencers to discuss and reduce mental health stigmas, as the subject is a top priority for its consumers.
“This time, however, we did it the wrong way,” the company said. “We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry.”
Max-Brown also apologized on TikTok, writing that the video was intended to spread awareness, not suggest a product fixed the struggles she has experienced as a result of the shooting.
“I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effects that it has had on me and the Spartan community,” she wrote.
Max-Brown has since removed the initial sponsored video from her account.