TikTok apologises for censoring queer creators

tiktok logo censoring queer creators
Photo: TikTok

TikTok has apologised for a former policy censoring and suppressing LGBTIQ content on the social media platform.

Last December, it emerged TikTok was censoring posts by users considered “highly vulnerable to cyberbullying”, including LGBTIQ people.

Accounts and posts from queer people, body positivity advocates and people with disabilities were being limited in their reach, regardless of content.

TikTok blamed a “blunt and temporary” policy in force at the time, and apologised.

The company’s director of government relations and public policy, Theo Bertram, told a UK parliamentary inquiry they “really got that wrong”.

“I’m really sorry. We really got that wrong,” he said this week.

“This was in the early days of TikTok. It was well-intentioned by it was completely wrong.

“The idea was to avoid bullying, that it wouldn’t help going viral, those types of videos.

“But I’m pleased to say that that is certainly a thing of the past.

“I do think TikTok is somewhere where body positivity, the LGBT+ community, don’t just feel protected now, but also celebrated and lifted up.”

Bertram said TikTok would only remove LGBTIQ videos when “law enforcement asked us to do so”.

“I think [Russia’s homophobic ‘gay propaganda’ law] is terrible and our community does too,” he said.

“But unfortunately we have to comply with legal requests in the countries that we operate.”

TikTok has come under fire previously for censoring queer creators

But TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has come under fire several times for censoring queer creators.

Last December, transgender users in the UK reported TikTok was deleting their posts without explanation.

This month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) also found TikTok was censoring the hashtags “gay”, “lesbian”, and “transgender” in Russian, Estonian, Bosnian, and Arabic, the terms “I am a gay/lesbian” in Russian, and “transgender” and “transitioning” in Arabic.

“This blunt approach to censorship affects not only citizens of a particular country,” the Institute said.

“But all users speaking those languages, no matter where in the world they live.”

“TikTok users posting videos with these hashtags are given the impression their posts are just as searchable as posts by other users. In fact they aren’t.”

Last September, The Guardian reported leaked guidelines revealing TikTok was also censoring queer creators “substantially further” than anti-LGBTIQ local laws required in several countries.

The policy, which the company said was no longer in use, banned any content positive to LGBTIQ people, even hand-holding.

The policy banned “intimate activities (holding hands, touching, kissing) between homosexual lovers.” So were “reports of homosexual groups, including news, characters, music, TV show, pictures.”

TikTok was censoring the content in some conservative countries even if homosexuality has never been illegal there.

TikTok said it was “a platform for creativity, and committed to equality and diversity”.

“As we grow we are constantly learning and refining our approach to moderation,” a spokesperson said.

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