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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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Friendship Is on the Decline in America Compared to 30 Years Ago

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While the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for increased isolation Americans have experienced over the past year, other factors for the drop in friendships include political differences, couples marrying later, and parents spending more time with kids.


Americans Have Fewer Friends Today

A new study released by the Survey Center on American Life has essentially found that friends are in short supply in America — or rather, that “despite renewed interest in the topic of friendship in popular culture and the news media, signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline.”

Out of more than 2,019 respondents made up of U.S. adults, only 13% said they had more than 10 close friends. That’s a big drop compared to a 1990 Gallup poll, which reported that a third of U.S. adults said they had more than 10 close friends. 

The poll also found that fewer Americans now say they have a “best” friend: 59% today compared to 75% in 1990.

Friendship Breakers: the Pandemic, Politics, and Work 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has very likely been the most direct cause of isolation over the past year.

As the poll also notes, women ages 18-29 appear to be the most affected demographic, with 43% having lost touch with at least a few friends and 16% indicating that they’re no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.

In addition to the pandemic, former President Donald Trump seems to be driving more broken friendships than perhaps most presidents. In fact, 22% of the respondents who said they ended a friendship cited Trump specifically. 

According to the poll, 20% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans have ended friendships over political disagreements, with 28% of political liberals saying they would end a friendship over political differences as opposed to 10% of conservatives. 

Other factors for Americans’ lost friendships include couples marrying later, parents spending more time with kids, as well as people working longer hours and being more geographically mobile.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While “best friends” are in shorter supply than in 1990, more than half of U.S. adults still say they have one. Another 46% of Americans have also reported making at least one new friend over the last year.  

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Independent) (Axios)

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NFL Says Teams Could Be Forced To Forfeit Games If Unvaccinated Players Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks

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Neither team will be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that faces the outbreak must also cover all expenses for the opposing team.


NFL Issues Strong Warning to the Unvaccinated

The National Football League announced Thursday that if a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players on a certain team, that team will be forced to forfeit the match. 

Additionally, the league said players on both teams will not be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that causes the game to be canceled will also be forced to cover all expenses for the opposing team. It could also face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s Office. 

As NFL.com writer Kevin Patra noted, this is “the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated.”

While the league has not mandated that its players and staff get vaccinated, in its Thursday memo, it said that “nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” It also noted that 75% of players “are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.”

The NFL added that vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work following two negative tests 24 hours apart. For unvaccinated players and staff who test positive, the NFL is deferring to its 2020 rules: 10-day isolation.

Rescheduling Vs. Canceling

Unvaccinated players — regardless of whether they test positive or not — will also be subject to more stringent protocols, including daily testing, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions.

That said, there is one potential loophole for teams that find themselves subject to outbreaks, though it could still be a longshot. The NFL will allow games to be rescheduled as long as they fit within the timeframe of its regular season.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL made clear in its memo. 

Still, the NFL may not be as flexible as it was during 2020. For example, while it was able to reschedule all of its postponed games during that season, it did so by moving some to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What Players Are Saying 

Currently-unvaccinated players were quick to speak out against the memo on Thursday.

“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.

Source: @deandrehopkins

Those advocating for players to get vaccinated have argued that not vaccinating yourself while engaging in a high-contact sport could still result in hurting teammates. In fact, several athletes have reported lingering effects following COVID-19 diagnoses, and some worry that long-term lung issues could cut their careers short. 

Similar to Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

Las Vegas Raiders running back even compared this year’s season to “playing in jail” in a now-deleted tweet, saying, “read the rules-know em like you know your plays.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hopes his team is “headed toward 100%” vaccination following the memo. 

See what others are saying: (NFL) (ESPN) (The Hill)

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California Sues Activision Blizzard Over “Frat Boy” Culture and Rampant Sexual Harassment

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The lawsuit details how certain executives at the company assaulted and harassed female employees and how one woman ultimately committed suicide after having a nude photo of herself leaked around the office. 


The Lawsuit’s Disturbing Harassment Details

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has lobbed a massive gender discrimination lawsuit against video game developer Blizzard Entertainment and its parent company Activision Blizzard, accusing the two of creating a culture of “constant sexual harassment.”

The details of the suit, which was launched Wednesday following two years of investigations, are disturbing. In some instances, it describes not just allegations of sexual harassment but also of sexual assault. 

For example, DFEH claims Blizzard’s workplaces are seeped in “frat boy” culture and said female employees have been “subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment.” 

The suit cites specific instances of harassment through the accounts of female employees, including one who said random male employees would approach her at her worksite and comment on her breasts. 

Other female employees working on the World of Warcraft team alleged that male employees and even supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape.

In the most tragic outcome cited in the lawsuit, DFEH said one female employee committed suicide on a company trip after having a sexual relationship with a male supervisor who had brought along a butt plug and lubricant. According to the suit, she had also faced harassment at a holiday party when male co-workers began passing around a photo of her vagina. 

DFEH Names Involved Executives

The allegations go straight to the top of Blizzard Entertainment’s chain of command. 

In fact, the suit claims President J. Allen Brack both knew about this behavior and enabled it. 

On top of that, an unnamed former Chief Technology Officer was allegedly seen “groping inebriated female employees at company events.”

The suit also specifically names Alex Afrasiabi, World of Warcraft’s senior creative director, saying he was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.”

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Female Employees Face Retaliation and Gender Discrimination

It’s not just that nothing was being done when female employees reported these instances, according to the DFEH. The agency also said those women faced retaliation, including being deprived of work, unwillingly transferred to other departments, and even being laid off at higher rates than male employees. 

Separately, another employee alleged she was told she couldn’t be promoted as a manager because “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much,” even though she had already assumed some of the responsibilities of a manager. 

Other employees who had actually gotten pregnant said they were given negative evaluations while on maternity leave.

In 2019, it was reported by multiple outlets that Blizzard was offering third-party fertility and pregnancy tracking services to employees but was also receiving that anonymized data back.

Blizzard Denounces Lawsuit

In response, Blizzard has called California’s lawsuit “irresponsible” and from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

Blizzard has also defended its workplace, saying, “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”

Others Speak Up

Since this lawsuit came out, at least five former employees have publicly corroborated several of its details.

That includes one woman who wrote on Twitter, “I left Blizzard after my boss gaslit me so badly my hair started falling out. My profit sharing, which I relied on to make ends meet, was docked due to “underperforming”, and when I went to HR to fight it with proof against his claims, I was told “maybe you are underperforming.”

“The fucked up part? I HATED leaving. Blizzard was my dream job and I loved the work I did there.”

Others, such as gamer Alanah Pearce, have recounted their own experiences working in gaming as a result of the allegations. 

“It’s jarring to me to see so many people on Twitter, who are around the industry, who are like gaming fans who don’t work in the industry, and go ‘Oh my, God, this is horrific.’ When my reaction is, ‘Oh, so it’s normal…” Pearce said in a Twitch stream uploaded to YouTube Thursday.

“Even when I worked in Tech before, the stories that I fucking have — just the shit that they did to me… Iike I was repeatedly grabbed and groped at work functions, and I would complain — like to their faces — I’d be like, ‘Don’t fucking touch me,’ and then, they would be like, ‘Haha, of course. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,’ and then they would do it again because me reacting negatively to it was what made it funny to them.”

Pearce went on to recount other very disturbing details about her time at that job, saying she eventually decided one day to not go back altogether.

“But if you see this shit, and you see ‘bros being bros’ and being like, ‘Who can fuck this girl first?’ Just please fucking say something. It’s so much harder for women to say something,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Kotaku) (Bloomberg Law)

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