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TikTok Admits it Suppressed Disabled Users’ Videos

Dominique Adams

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TikTok

The video-sharing app says the move was an attempt to reduce the amount of cyberbullying on its platform. 

Social network TikTok has acknowledged flaws in a new policy which prevented videos of disabled users from going viral.

Videos created and posted by people with disabilities, facial disfigurements or birthmarks, Downs Syndrome and autism were targeted by TikTok moderators, according to an investigation by Netzpolitik.

An inside source at TikTok told the publication that its policy was meant to protect users who were at high risk of being cyber bullied. A leaked extract from the company’s rulebook said those users were “susceptible to bullying or harassment based on their physical or mental condition”.

In instances where moderators deemed the user to be particularly vulnerable, they were instructed to prevent the clips from appearing in the apps main “For You”  feed once they had accumulated between 6,000 to 10,000 views – thus preventing them from going viral.

Known as the “Auto R”, the tag covered a broad range of users which included “fat and self-confident” users, LGBT users or users with autism.

Critics of the policy say it is not protecting users but is instead discriminating against those it is obliged to protect. The policy has been condemned by disability rights campaigners, who have branded the move as “bizarre”.

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Speaking to Netzpolitik, a spokesperson for TikTok described the rules as an early and flawed attempt to prevent conflict. The rules were “never intended to be a long-term solution,” they added.

“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” they said.

“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, and while the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong. We have long since removed the policy in favour of more nuanced anti-bullying policies.”

The company has not confirmed when it stopped enforcing the policy, but Netzpolitik reported that it was still in force in September.

Ceri Smith from the disability equality charity Scope said: “It’s good that TikTok has ended this bizarre policy. Social media platforms must do more to tackle cyber-bullying, but hastily hiding away a group of users under the guise of protecting them is not the right approach at all.”

The company has previously faced criticism over political censorship, and in the past, it has limited or removed content that might upset the Chinese government. Recently, it suspended a user who criticised the mass imprisonment of Uighur Muslims, however, the company has since reversed the ban.

TikTok justified the ban saying it was for another video. The user in question, Feroza Aziz, rejected TikTok’s explanations for blocking her from its app.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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