Internal Documents Reveal TikTok Moderators Were Told To Suppress Posts From ‘Ugly, Poor, Or Disabled’ Users

TikTok Moderators Were Told To Suppress Posts From Ugly Poor Users

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Video-sharing social networking app TikTok is all the rage these days with geniuses putting pennies in electrical sockets and breaking each other’s skulls, but like any startup it had its growing pains.

Long before TikTok had its hundreds of millions of users, the creators of TikTok told their moderators to censor and suppress posts created by users they believed to be ugly, poor, overweight or disabled in an effort to make the app more attractive to potential customers, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.

Under this policy, TikTok moderators were explicitly told to suppress uploads from users with flaws both congenital and inevitable. “Abnormal body shape,” “ugly facial looks,” dwarfism, and “obvious beer belly,” “too many wrinkles,” “eye disorders,” and many other “low quality” traits are all enough to keep uploads out of the algorithmic fire hose. Videos in which “the shooting environment is shabby and dilapidated,” including but “not limited to … slums, rural fields” and “dilapidated housing” were also systematically hidden from new users, though “rural beautiful natural scenery could be exempted,” the document notes.

The document, presented in both English and Chinese, advised TikTok’s moderators that for videos shot in someone’s house with “no obvious slummy charactor [sic],” special care should be given to check for slummy features such as a “crack on the wall” or “old and disreputable decorations.” The mere appearance of residential disrepair or crooked teeth in the frame, the document shows, could mean the difference between worldwide distribution and relative invisibility.

TikTok spokesperson Josh Gartner told The Intercept that most of these guidelines “are either no longer in use, or in some cases appear to never have been in place.”

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Other offenses in the internal TikTok document deemed worthy of being suppressed, thus artificially limiting the user’s audience, included disparaging TikTok via livestream and promoting TikTok’s competitors.

None of these “rules” have been made available to users of TikTok, sources told The Intercept that the policies outlined in the internal documents were in use through at least late 2019.

In February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman called the platform “fundamentally parasitic” spyware.

The Pentagon, Department of Defense, and Transportation Security Administration have all also issued warnings about TikTok, citing potential risks from using the app.

And yet, a reported 800 million monthly users don’t seem to care.

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