TikTok’s vast censorship machine

Monday 22 February 2021

Over the past few years, there has been increasing concerns over the surveillance and censorship built into ByteDance’s record-breaking social media app TikTok. This culminated in President Trump’s decision to force ByteDance to sell their American operations to an American company (a policy that is now being reviewed by the Biden Administration). 

This article tells the story of a former ByteDance employee, that worked on TikTok’s censorship program and is now blowing the whistle. The employee explains the mechanics of the program, including how the ByteDance Content Quality Centre responded to directives from the Chinese Government’s Cyberspace Administration of China. 

The whistleblower details some of the technology TikTok use, including algorithms that transcribe live streams and compare it to a list of prescribed words, dates and names. If flagged, the user would be listed for individual monitoring and live streams and videos would be taken down. 

This whistleblower has chosen to speak out because of the harm they think the censorship policies had in delaying the world’s response to COVID. From the whistleblowers perspective, had the Chinese media and social media agencies not been so active in censoring any content that didn’t reflect official government lines, the warnings coming out of Wuhan may have been heard far earlier. 

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