ByteDance, TikTok's owner, has been caught censoring news critical of China since 2018 with the Indonesian news application Baca Berita.
The Reuters news agency has revealed new information that once again paints ByteDance in a bad light. For several months, TikTok has been accused by different governments of working on behalf of the Chinese government. From the alleged theft of data to the indiscriminate censorship of all content that could be offensive to Beijing, TikTok has gained a bad name for itself among the top United States officials on both sides of the political aisle, as well as other countries such as India.
In the face of these accusations, ByteDance has never been silent. On more than one occasion the company has responded through spokespersons saying that they have no relationship with the Chinese government, that they have never demanded that certain videos be removed, and that content moderation for international versions of the application is in the hands of specialized teams for each region.
However, the company's statements have had no effect as, time after time, reports of censorship have surfaced.
Several US senators have demanded investigations against the app, especially on charges of espionage. Even President Donald Trump has stepped in – his most recent move being a ban on all transactions with ByteDance.
Now, the new Reuters report appears to confirm the company's censorship stories, even beyond TikTok. The affected app is the Indonesian news app, Baca Berita (better known as BaBe).
The report indicates that ByteDance bought Baca Berita in 2018, and since then the moderators of the news app received a series of parameters that forced them to eliminate those articles that spoke against the Chinese government.
Among the articles removed are sensitive issues such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre or content around Mao Zedong – all content that is not to the liking of the Chinese authorities.
This is similar to the censorship that researchers found with the TikTok app.
A BaBe's spokesperson said that, during the app's early days, the site's moderators were not using guidelines that were adapted to the philosophy they follow nowadays, but this changed when in 2019 they trained a team to moderate news of local interest for the Indonesian market.
The spokesperson, however, did not confirm if among these parameters was the instruction to eliminate all anti-Chinese news.