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TikTok apologizes for removing LGBTI content: ‘We really got that wrong’

TikTok apologizes for removing LGBTI content: ‘We really got that wrong’

  • TikTok now says it will only curtail gay content if requested to do so by local law enforcement agencies.
A man looks at his cell phone screen

Video-sharing social media app TikTok has apologized for suppressing LGBTI content.

The hugely successful app has around 800 million users around the globe. It’s made headlines in recent weeks because President Donald Trump threatened to ban it in the US over data security fears. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance.

However, pre-dating this has been criticism that the app has suppressed LGBTI content. Critics say the app takes action to prevent such content – even images of men holding hands – from going viral in certain countries.

Hashtags subjected to shadowbans

Earlier this month, TikTok admitted it restricted LGBTI-related hashtags in some countries. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) conducted a study into TikTok hashtags. It found the app ‘shadowbans’ LGBTI-related hashtags in countries such as Jordan, Russia, and Bosnia. For example, if you search for the word transgender in Arabic, it would yield zero results.

When the study was released, TikTok said some hashtags were flagged as often leading to pornographic content. It also said some hashtags were restricted to comply with local laws.

TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe the Middle East and Africa, Theo Bertram, was today questioned by a British parliamentary committee. He went further, saying, ‘I’m really sorry, we really got that wrong,’ reports Thomson Reuters Foundation. Some of the questioning about gay content can be watched below.

Bertram said that restricting the spread of gay and trans content, along with videos from plus-size and disabled users, was done with good intentions: to prevent online bullying.

‘That was a terrible idea,’ he now conceded. Going forward, he said TikTok would only act to prevent the spread of queer content if requested to do so by specific law enforcement agencies. He highlighted the anti-gay propaganda law in Russia as one such instance where TikTok may be forced to act. However, he clarified he thought it a ‘terrible’ law.

‘I think the Russian law is terrible and our community does too … But unfortunately, we have to comply with legal requests in the countries that we operate.’

Last weekend, President Trump threatened to introduce a US ban on TikTok within 48 hours. However, the threatened action appeared to have been averted at the 11th hour after the President approved a sale of the app to the US-based Oracle and Wal-Mart.