By: Jason Cohen, Daily Caller News Foundation
Popular video platform TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance has personnel in China that use a moderation system which includes word lists designed to identify or restrict content related to a broad range of topics, including posts relating to former President Donald Trump, and the persecuted Chinese Uyghurs, according to Forbes.
According to internal company records acquired by Forbes, ByteDance keeps track of and sometimes suppresses content related to the Chinese government, trade between China and the U.S., the persecuted ethnic minority group Uyghurs, former President Donald Trump and TikTok competitor YouTube. Despite over 50 of the lists containing the term “TikTok” in their title, the company told Forbes they had never applied the lists to their platform.
China has its own version of TikTok called Douyin that is also owned by ByteDance. TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza stressed that TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin are different, stating they have separate keyword platforms and lists that different teams oversee. ByteDance and TikTok’s keyword system split in 2019, according to Favazza, and TikTok’s version has been independent ever since.
Favazza suggested to Forbes that the documents they acquired could be outdated or incomplete, stating the platform never enforced any of the word lists discovered. She told Forbes she could not speculate on why the list titles have “TikTok” or “US” in their names.
“To be clear, there are separate keyword moderation tools,” ByteDance spokesperson Jennifer Banks told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The tool that moderates TikTok is completely separate from those responsible for the products available in mainland China.”
It is almost impossible to ensure Douyin’s strict settings are inoperative on TikTok, experts told Forbes. Chinese law requires businesses to hand over data to the government upon request, so ByteDance could be compelled to disclose information with party leaders no matter where the activity originated, experts further explained to Forbes.
Some examples from the lists the ByteDance tool monitors include the following: “Trump Directed Prohibited Words,” “Putin Directed Prohibited Words,” “TikTok audio sensitive words in Tibet region,” “Special prohibited words for Xi and Peng,” “Theming Strategies of Uyghur-Han Couples,” “YouTube Domestic Surveillance,” “Company Product Negative Sensitive Vocabulary” and “TikTok government affairs media topic vocabulary.”
China said it would fiercely oppose any forced sale of TikTok in response to the Biden administration’s call for the company to divest itself from ByteDance or face a ban in the United States, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Chinese-tied apps are thriving in the U.S., while American apps are typically not allowed to operate in China due to the country’s strict online censorship, according to Axios.
TikTok did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.