TikTok is a social media app that allows users to create and watch short videos on any topic of their choice. These videos can range anywhere from 15 seconds to three minutes. Its mission is to spark joy and inspire creativity in their users. The content varies depending on the video. It is a rapidly growing app that is utilized by millions of users across the globe. Roughly 53% of the apps users are male, while 47% of users are female. Around 48% of users range between the ages of 10 and 29. The app is available on all ios and android devices. Tiktok was the most downloaded app in 2020. By the beginning of 2021 it had over a billion active users. There have been rising concerns over the way that the app censors different videos and the outcomes from videos being censored. Users are faced with sudden disappearances of videos, comments and hashtags and don’t always understand why.
- 1 History
- 2 Features
- 3 Ethical Implications
- 4 Censorship Outcomes
- 5 References
The app was launched in September 2016 by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd.  In China, the app is known as Douyin. The apps have the same user interface, users are just unable to see content from the other app. TikTok blew up after it merged with the app Musicly on August 2nd, 2018. The app is available in 39 languages and over 155 countries. The Trump Administration launched an investigation at the end of 2019 to investigate potential national security risks. The investigation was led by CFIUS. In 2020, Trump’s administration tried banning TikTok in the U.S because of national security concerns. However, it never actually happened and the app is still up and running. The widely popular app is currently banned in four countries. These countries are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. Pakistan was the first country to ban TikTok. They did this on October 11, 2020.
- Video Uploading
- Video Editing
- Comments and Likes
- Search tools
For You Page
The most popular feature of the app is the "for you" page. When a user opens the app, this is the first thing that they will see. This is a stream of videos that you can stroll through and is intended to be curated to a users specific interests. The more that a user engages in certain types of videos and hashtags, the more likely that similar content will start to show up on your for you page. Additionally, if a user is constantly viewing certain profiles but not following that user, there is also a high chance of videos from those users showing up on someones for you page. . The for you page is never ending, allowing for users to scroll through for hours at a time if they wanted.
Certain videos can get blocked from showing up on people’s “for you” page on the app. Although it is unclear exactly how the algorith works, it uses a combination of how you interact with different videos, users, likes, comments and hashtags on the app. This algorithm is what decides what videos each user ends up seeing. While this algorithm helps make good recommendations for content for each user, it also allows moderators to censor certain videos and block them from appearing.
Things that should be censored on the app end up still appearing on peoples "for you" pages. At times, users are questioning why certain videos are showing up on their feed and why these videos haven't been taken down.
Things that shouldn't be censored end up getting censored. TikTok has reported that its false positive rate for censoring videos is roughly 5%. The most common reason for why these videos ending up being flagged was for violating minor safety guidelines.. There is a hate speech detection tool on the app, but many times content is mistakenly flagged by it.
Censorship on the App
TikTok has come under fire for the way that they censor different content on the app. Many people throughout the world have been calling them out for their unfair treatment. Censorship is the "suppression of words, images or ideas that are 'offensive'". Censorship has been affecting many users/videos posted on the app and comes in different forms. Videos are censored through the combination of technology and human moderators. The types of videos censored range from different political videos, to LGBT to people with disabilities, different races or for people that the app deems ugly. The list goes on and on. Jewish creators have complained that their videos have been continuously flagged and removed on the app. Many plus sized creators have also come out and complained about their videos being removed from the app even though they did not violate any guidelines. If your video is flagged or reported it will be removed by the app and your account can be temporarily or permanently banned. Instead of removing your video, TikTok may just prevent your videos from appearing on many peoples’ “for you” page on the app. TikTok has come under scrutiny recently for some of their censorship policies and how they moderate different videos. Another concern is that content from black creators have been censored. TikTok has admitted to censoring certain content in order to try and prevent bullying. Tiktoks mission is to try and create a happy outlet for content creators. TikTok’s rules on censorship are constantly changing and it is not always clear what these policies are or what content ends up actually getting censored. This has been frustrating people because there are no clear set rules for censorship and many times are confused when their content is censored. TikTok reported that between April 1st and June 30th of 2021 the app removed 81 million videos for violating community guidelines.. Censorship is TikTok's approach to minimizing conflict and continuing to make the app a happy place to be on.
It is also possible for TikTok to censor different comments on a video. TikTok censors comments in aims of trying to combat bullying other users on the app. Tiktok removes any comments on videos that they deem as inappropriate and violate community guidelines. However, there is no specific list of words that are not allowed on the app. TikTok has created two new options on the app in order to help address unkind comments. The first option is for creators to have a "filter all comments" option. This would hide all comments on someones videos until the creator approves them. The other new option is to prompt and notify uses to adjust or delete comments that the considers inappropriate before the comment gets posted. There are no specifics on which words would and would not be allowed.
Censoring Black Language
TikTok censors certain phrases that people want to put in their bios on the app. "Black Lives Matter", "Supporting black people", and "supporting black voices" are all flagged as inappropriate and are not allowed. However, if you replaced the word "black" with "white" then those phrases would be allowed. Guidelines are enforced very differently on the app depending on what types of people you are talking about. Those in minorities are affected much greater. Ziggi Tyler, who is a popular black creator on the app pointed out that his account has been flagged for putting "Black Lives Matter" or "I am a black man" in his bio. However, when users put "supporting white supremacy" their accounts would not be censored.. People are no longer able to republish Tyler's videos on the app, making it much more difficult for his videos to go viral. Many Black Creators have called for a virtual strike on the app, going silent in order to protest the unfair favoritism TikTok has for white creators. A #BlackTikTokStrike has also been created in order to try and draw more attention to black creators. This hashtag has been viewed more than two million times. After a continual outcry from black creators, TikTok has vowed to take action in regards to the continuous accusations it gets about suppressing black creators content and treatment towards the black community. Black creators continue to call out TikTok for their algorithm being "racist". In June, 2020, TIkTok released a progress report providing details about how they are making changes in order to help support black creators more.
TikTok has banned and continues to ban certain hashtags on the app. Certain hashtags related to LGBTQ+ have been banned in multiple languages. TikTok's purpose in banning these hashtags is to try and mitigate any kind of bullying towards these users. TikTok refers to it as a "localized" approach to moderation. The #intersex has been removed by TikTok two times. TikTok came out with a statement that the hashtag was removed by accident in both instances. Any hashtag related to the Qanon movement has been removed because it violates the app's guidelines. TikTok came under scrutiny after the death of George Floyd, hashtags such as #GeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter were blocked from the app. These hashtags had zero videos attached to them if you clicked on them when in reality they actually had over 2 billion views on them. TikTok apologized and said it was a temporary technical glitch. Any hashtag related to storming the Capitol or speech used by rioters will be blocked. For instance, #stormthecapitol or #patriotparty are blocked. Users upset with certain hashtags being censored are finding creative solutions to get around the apps censorship. One of these creative solutions is to misspell certain words so that their content would not get flagged by the app and so they could continue to post as they feel.
Censoring Political Speech
Moderators on TikTok are instructed to censor any videos that happen to mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence or certain banned religious groups like Falun Gong. The app also instructs its moderators to remove any content that they deem endangers "national honor and interests". TikTok does not allow any kind of political advertisements on the app. It is strongly against the apps polices and will be immediately removed. TikTok posted on their website, “We will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level — including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads”. Certain political leaders have been suppressed on the app. There is a specific list of 20 leaders. Some of these political leaders include: "Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, Mahatma Gandhi, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Kim Jong-un, Shinzo Abe, Park Geun-Hee, Joko Widodo and Narendra Modi" Users are not allowed to talk about China's socialist system. Any kind of criticism regarding the Chinese government is not allowed and will be immediately removed from the platform. TikTok admitted to censoring content that talked about China's controversial policies in Xinjiang, a Western region in the country. In October 2019, the app censored videos of Winnie the Pooh after a user posted a video placing Winnie next to China's president Xi Jinping. The reasoning behind the user posting this video on the app was too see if TikTok would actually censor his video. Political speech is also censored on the apps livestream feature. There is a wide range of topics that are not allowed and will be blocked from the livestream. If your account gets caught including any of this content on a livestream, your account will be immediately suspended.
Censoring Covid 19
TikTok censors any kind of misinformation regarding the Coronavirus (Covid 19). The app does not want any content that could lead to harm anyone's health or safety. TikTok has repeatedly censored any content that is against getting a vaccine for the virus.
Documents were released about an old TikTok censoring policy reffered to as the “Ugly Content Policy” had moderators on the app to limit the amount of videos that they deemed as having physical flaws. For instance, people that had unusual body types, ugly facial features, people that seemed poor, the list goes on and on. The specific words used in the policy that were instructed to be supressed were “Abnormal body shape”, “ugly facial looks”, “dwarfism”, “obvious beer belly”, “too many wrinkles”, and “eye disorders”. The point of this policy was to try and keep current users, as well as, reach potential new ones. TikTok was worried that by not suppressing some of these videos, it would harm their image and the app would no longer be aspirational. TikTok has come out with a statement that many of the polices released in the documents are no longer in use by the app. The Guardian released documents in 2019 that showed how certain content on the app could be censored and marked as "visible to self". This limits how these marked videos are distributed on the app, but doesn't make it clear to the user that their video is being hidden to to infringement policies. TikTok claimed that these policies were intended to protect certain users from bullying and was not meant to be long term solutions.  Lizzo, who is a famous singer, has called out TikTok for continuously deleting videos of her in a bikini. She is someones that is a big advocate for body positivity. Charlie D'amelio, who is the most followed user on the app, posts similar videos in bikinis, however, her videos are not taken down. The only difference between the two is that Lizzo happens to be plus size, while Charlie is not.
Videos taken down
If a users video is censored and flagged as inappropriate, then the video will be taken down and removed from the app.
Comments that are censored will either be hidden or completely removed.
Account being shadow banned
Tiktok may shadowban your account. Many users have been suspicious of accounts being shadow banned however TikTok continues to deny that they have done such a thing.  An account being shadow banned means that a user can still post content, but that content will not be able to be seen by others on the app. Shadow banned content will not appear on other users for you pages. TikTok may shadow ban your account because they think you are creating spam content or if they deem your content inappropriate. If a user wants to lift a shadow ban on their account, they need to clean up their account by deleting videos that may have caused it in the first place. A typical shadow ban does not last longer than two weeks. It is sometimes hard to identify if your account has been shadow banned because TIkTok does not straight out tell a user that they are doing it. One way to notice is if a users sees a significant drop in engagement for their account.
Temporary ban on your account
TikTok may shadow ban your account. Many users have been suspicious of accounts being shadow banned however TikTok continues to deny that they have done such a thing. If your TikTok account is temporarily banned for content violations, your account will be suspending for a range of time between 24 and 48 hours. During this period of time, you will be unable to upload, comment or performs edits to your account. Different users will also not be able to view your account. 
Permanent ban on your account
If you continue to have multiple violations, then your account will be permanently banned and you will not be able to reverse it. Account holders will loss all information attached to the account.
What to do if your account or content is flagged or reported
- You can appeal through the app
- If your account should be restored you will be restored access to your account and the content will be restored
Many times appeals are never responded to and users are left unhappy.