Social media platform TikTok, which was formerly known as musical.ly, is being accused of censoring content that is related to the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
TikTok, a tech company based in Beijing and owned by ByteDance, currently has more than 1.3 billion users worldwide. It has become the most popular and fastest-growing app to date with its continuous stream of unique and meme-worthy media uploaded by users from all over the world.
But unknown to many, TikTok is alleged to have a subservient relationship with the Chinese government. ByteDance, the app owner claims that American user data is stored within the U.S. and are not accessible by anyone from Beijing.
From The Washington Post:
“In its statement, the company defended TikTok as a place for entertainment, not politics, and said its audience gravitates there for positive and joyful content as a possible explanation for why so few videos relate to sensitive topics such as the protests in Hong Kong.
The company declined to provide details of how the app is policed in the U.S. or how the U.S. team shields itself from being influenced by authorities in Beijing, where ByteDance is headquartered. Officials in the Chinese embassy did not respond to requests for comment.”
However, the Post is reporting that there have been several videos related to President Donald Trump and even have the hashtag #trump2020, suggesting that the idea that politics simply doesn't exist on TikTok is lacking.
The pro-Trump videos have been viewed more than 70 million times. This suggests that politics is not a big issue on TikTok, as long as it doesn’t affect China. For instance, if you search for content related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, don’t be surprised to find only a handful of videos available on TikTok – compared to thousands of results on other social platforms.
Experts have warned that ByteDance might be using TikTok to shape its users’ views on topics that are related to China. Unfortunately, the company will not divulge how it moderates the app so there is no way telling whether Hong Kong protest-related content is being censored.
Yaqiu Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the Hong Kong protests marked one of the first big tests of how Chinese companies could project the government’s dogmas to a global audience.
“They are making the commercial media repost or reproduce what has been produced by state media. And they are forcing censorship to create a narrative in the sense that this is not what happened,” Wang said. “For Chinese companies, the government has so much control. You have no choice. If it’s politically sensitive, your company is in jeopardy,” Wang said.