17 March 2020
Journalists uncover TikTok guide calling to censor ‘ugly’ people

Journalists uncover TikTok guide calling to censor ‘ugly’ people

Zuma / TASS

Tiktok moderators were advised to remove content from ‘unattractive’ users - people that appeared too ugly, poor or disabled - in an effort to uphold an aspirational air in its ‘For You’ feed, according to internal company documents obtained by The Intercept.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company Bytedance, has been known to censor user content: moderators have removed videos mentioning the Tiananmen Square massacre or Tibet’s desire for independence from China. LGBT-related content was also subject to restrictions.

The app’s censorship doesn’t only apply to politically sensitive topics, but also to the users themselves. According to the Intercept, moderators were told to suppress videos from people with an “abnormal body shape”, who are “chubby … obese or too thin” or who have “ugly facial looks or facial deformities”.

The Chinese company paid special attention to faces: videos «ugly facial looks» are also recommended not to be shown to a wide audience. This category includes “distorted” faces, lack of teeth, scars, eye disorders, and even «too many» wrinkles in older people.

TikTok spokesperson Josh Gartner told The Intercept that the ‘guide’ the journalists received was already out of use in the company. According to Gartner, the document revealed an early attempt at “preventing bullying” of users. The publication’s other sources state that the rules were in place up until at least the end of 2019.

The Intercept’s sources in the company, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the censorship instructions came from the company's headquarters in Beijing. According to them, guidelines, unlike user recommendations, are not published openly and exist only for internal use. Without knowing it, users are punished for violating these hidden rules, as their videos’ views are manually suppressed.