New information regarding TikTok’s Parent Company ByteDance has revealed that the company used a tool operated by workers in China to track mentions of what it considers “sensitive words.”
According to a Forbes report, Byte Dance tried to block posts from the app because they contained words and phrases that were deemed by officials as “must kill,” “forbidden,” or “prohibited.”
The tool tracked instances where these words came up, documenting who said it and their location, including individuals in the United States.
Speaking to Forbes, William Evanina, the former head of US National Counterintelligence and Security agency, explained that the archive of forbidden words in ByteDance’s library is arranged into thousands of vocabulary lists and is “proof-positive that there are specific things that they are concerned about and they want to monitor who was saying them, when and how often.”
Evanina added that ByteDance is not “just collecting it for collection’s sake.”
One list of words that ByteDance has deemed “sensitive” appears to address content that the Chinese Communist government disapproves of, including negative language towards Beijing’s governance, military, leaders, and history.
A few weeks ago, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told lawmakers under oath that the company does not “promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.”
Another list contains words about Taiwan and Hong Kong, which Chinese officials view as the two threats and property of the CCP.
Taiwan’s push for independence led to retaliation from the Chinese military officials, preparing their forces to invade the small-island state shortly. The social media platform has denied words mentioning “Taiwan” or “Hong Kong” being used.
Other lists included topics ranging from geopolitics to “Tibet,” “Uyghurs,” and “Xinjiang,” words that link China and the COVID-19 pandemic, to the stock market, real estate, foreign languages, cultures, competitors like YouTube, and the Chinese TikTok app “Douyin,” have been denied by the TikTok of ever appearing on the app or being in usage and instead stated that such words could be the result of translation errors from Chinese English.
The collection of words obtained by journalists and media outlets is long and exhaustive, with many speculating that there are more in ByteDance’s system, revealing the extent to which the content moderation platform is tracking and suppressing political, social, and cultural issues.” Experts say that the lists produced by ByteDance are nothing new, given that TikTok has had a history of banning content that it deems controversial to the Chinese government and left-wing progressive ideology.
When confronted by media outlets, officials from ByteDance refused to comment on the lists and their significance. The company’s spokesperson, Jennifer Banks, told Forbes that there are “separate and distinct keyword tools used for different products, each with strict permissions and access controls that enable a select few people within each product or platform to manage or add to them.”
TikTok also responded to the latest revelations, with spokesperson Jamie Favazza telling Forbes that the company believes the list titles “have translation errors and are not relevant to TikTok.”
Favazza did confirm to the media outlet that around 50 of the list titles are used on the platform for “safety purposes.”
“Regardless of wordlist names, TikTok’s keyword platform operates separately from Douyin’s and other China market products, with separate code and separate databases, and is maintained by separate personnel,” Favazza told Forbes.
The TikTok spokesperson said the social media outlet uses wordlists to “help protect our community from hate speech, misinformation, and other harmful content.”
When Forbes provided TikTok with the list of names, Favazza stated that such words are “not used on TikTok, and anyone can easily see content about those topics is available on TikTok through a simple search on the app.”
Throughout different states in the US, the state governments have banned the usage of TikTok by government employees and citizens, citing past and current instances of data leakage and the app’s ability to spy on individuals and obtain private information. Countries like India, the UK, France, and the European Union have implemented partial or total bans on the app, citing national security concerns.
Word lists, obtained by Forbes:
List on Chinese Power:
2346 – Tiktok IM party and government negative word – party, government and military negative core words
504 – Negative core words of the party, government
505 – Name of government agency
777 – Party and government negative words list
978 – Special prohibited words for Xi and Peng
773 – Xi Peng variant vocabulary
774 – Mao Deng Jianghu and its variants
975 – Leader preference targeted prohibited words
981 – Leader relatives orientation prohibited words
2391 – FS project – Xi Peng – neutral & negative inaccurate
2392 – FS project – party, government and military related
1673 – FS project – universal (core leader/kind variant)
1255 – FS project – fraud user glossary
2389 – FS project – June 4th related – negative inaccurate
956 – June 4 must kill word list
1312 – Vertical June 4th special review speech
1482 – Falun Gong
2535 – Thematic strategy for China’s strategic policy
Lists on “Taiwan” or “Hong Kong”:
3034 – Local life – Taiwan independence & Hong Kong independence & Tibet independence & Xinjiang independence
1140 – Hong Kong – related special vocabulary for live bro
1861 – Live China and Taiwan title activity vocabulary
2284 – High risk phrases in Taiwan emergency queue
2180 – Prohibited artist words in music in Taiwan
2120 – Taiwan’s emergency queue in the live broadcast
2220 – Taiwan blind box Kaiping comment blocking
2642 – High – risk adjuvant vocabulary for Taiwan emergency
2753 – Taiwan – related theming (title)
2758 – Taiwan – related theming (comment)
2758 – Taiwan – related theming (review)
2776 – Taiwan sensitive word test
Lists on Geopolitics:
977 – Trump directed prohibited words
982 – Sino – U.S. trade directional prohibited words
508 – North Korea – related core words
976 – Putin directed prohibited words
2350 – Interactive Russian – Ukrainian tag temporary
623 – Current leader words
1632 – G leaders’ special retracement speech
2007 – G – competitor block word list
503 – Separatist forces core words
2749 – LS theming – coup, war (title)
2754 – LS theming – coup, war (Review)
3253 – IM private chat politics – related active control