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TikTok reportedly censored videos critical of the Chinese government

The company say it updated its moderation policies in May.
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Anatoliy Sizov via Getty Images

Social media darling TikTok may have attempted to export some of China's censorship policies to the rest of the world. Documents obtained by The Guardian reportedly show policy guidelines that instruct moderators to take down content that makes mention of topics like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The company lists Tiananmen square alongside other "incidents" such as the 1998 riots in Indonesia and the Cambodian genocide as topics that aren't acceptable to broach. In other instances, the company attempted to censor its users by making Chinese topics acceptable. For example, one set of guidelines lists specific world leaders TikTok users can't mention.

In the majority of cases, the action TikTok recommends against users that create a video about a banned topic is to limit the visibility of the post. The company wouldn't outright delete a post, but it also wouldn't allow it to be picked up by its algorithm. Some posts, however, such as those about topics like Falun Gong, could lead to bans.

For its part, ByteDance, TikTok's creator, claims it retired the guidelines in May. "In TikTok's early days we took a blunt approach to minimizing conflict on the platform," the company said in a statement to The Guardian. ByteDance went on to say that it now employs more "localized approaches" to content moderation, employing both region-specific moderators and policies.

It appears the company is still employing at least some forms of censorship. Earlier this month, an investigation by The Washington Post found that searching for videos related to Hong Kong brings back little to no mention of the ongoing pro-democracy protests in the city-state. It's also the latest example of Chinese-style censorship making its way to the wider internet. In February, Taiwanese-made horror game Devotion was pulled from Steam after players discovered an image within the game that referenced Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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