TikTok removed more than 104 million videos in the first half of 2020

The company has also proposed a 'global coalition' against harmful content.

Mike Blake / reuters

TikTok’s surging popularity has resulted in more video takedowns. The company’s latest transparency report states that it removed 104 million clips during the first six months of 2020. For comparison, the last report — which was published a couple of months ago, but covered July to December 2019 — revealed that roughly 49 million videos were deleted during the latter half of 2019. It’s a significant jump that can be attributed in part to the app’s ever-growing userbase, which was fuelled earlier this year by the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when people were trapped indoors and desperate for ways to entertain themselves and other people.

According to TikTok, the videos removed this year made up “less than one percent” of all content uploaded to the platform. Almost a third of the deletions contained adult nudity or sexual activities, while 22.3 percent were categorised as “minor safety.” A further 19.6 percent showed “illegal activities and minor goods” and 13.4 percent included “suicide, self harm and other dangerous acts.” Content related to “integrity and authenticity,” which includes impersonation and disinformation, only made up 1.2 percent of the takedowns. Other factors included violent and graphic content (8.7 percent), harassment and bullying (2.5 percent), hate speech (0.8 percent) and dangerous individuals and organizations (0.3 percent).

The transparency report also broke down the geographical origins of these removals. India came out on top, which partly explains why the government banned the app earlier this year. The US ranked second, followed by Pakistan, Brazil and the UK. In its report, TikTok said that 96.4 percent of takedowns occurred before a user had reported the video, and 90.3 percent happened before anyone had watched it. The document stops short of explaining how many were spotted and judged by a human or algorithmic moderator. TikTok did say, however, that it had been relying “more heavily on technology to detect and automatically remove violating content in markets such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan.”

As TechCrunch reports, legal requests also rose during the first six months of 2020. TikTok received 1,768 requests for user information from 42 regions, which included 290 from US law enforcement agencies.

Alongside the transparency report, TikTok has proposed a social media coalition to tackle harmful content. Vanessa Pappas, the company’s interim head, has written to nine other platform holders — we don’t know which ones, but it isn’t hard to guess — suggested a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The agreement would encourage companies to give their competitors a heads-up whenever they spot violent or graphic content. A ‘hashbank’ would ensure that everyone benefits from the detection and fewer users see harmful content, regardless of which apps they use. For now, it’s not clear if any companies have taken up TikTok’s offer. We will update this story if and when any confirm their involvement.

TikTok’s transparency report and coalition proposal follow a wave of unusual political pressure. The service was set to disappear from US app stores on Sunday — or not be available to download, at least — after a deal with Microsoft failed to materialize. President Trump informally approved a partnership between TikTok, Oracle and Walmart last Saturday, though. The details are still fuzzy but it seems as though Bytedance, the Chinese developer behind TikTok, is prepared to create a US subsidiary called TikTok Global. Oracle and Walmart will own at least some of the company, but it’s not clear if ByteDance will own any of it — Oracle has said it won’t — and if the Chinese government will be happy with such a compromise.