Social media app aimed at Gen Z and below, TikTok, has already been in hot water for its ties to Chinese tech company and Communist Party-affiliate ByteDance, but newly leaked documents could place it under fire again.
Internal documents, leaked by The Intercept, showed moderators from the video-sharing app – which boasts more users than Instagram – tried to employ algorithmic punishments for “unattractive and impoverished” users.
The documents, originally written in Chinese and then translated to English for TikTok’s global offices, flagged new rules which would stop clips featuring anything ‘unattractive’ from appearing in the “For You” section of the app - the first feed users see when they open the app.
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These new rules would apply to users with “abnormal body shape, chubby, have obvious beer belly, or too thin (not limited to: dwarf, acromegaly)”.
It would also extend to “ugly facial looks...or facial deformities”.
Users with houses that look “shabby and dilapidated,” were “extremely dirty and messy” or were old or featured unattractive decorations would also be penalised.
People with disabilities also banned
In December last year, TikTok received backlash after it instructed its moderators to mark videos of people with disabilities and limit their reach, which it stated was in a bid to protect vulnerable users from cyber bullying.
Queer and fat people also ended up on the list of “special users”, accoridng to documents obtained by German blog Netzpolitik.
According to the memo, videos uploaded by these users were deemed risky, and limited their reach on the platform to 5.5 million instead of one billion.
Moderators in Beijing, Berlin and Barcelona were even instructed to place videos by disabled users into a “not recommended” category once they reached 10,000 views. This means they would no longer appear in the “For You” feed.
Mother and journalist Anastasia Basil downloaded the TikTok app when her 10-year-old daughter asked for it, and found the experience “disturbing”, she wrote in a blog post for Medium.
“The kids who get it right – the tweeny Kardashians – gain followers,” she said.
But those who aren’t “sexy” enough often get bullied in the comments section or find their videos part of “cringe” compilation videos.
Reddit users believe the app ‘rampantly sexualises’ teenage girls purposefully to make it more addictive.
A TikTok spokesperson told Yahoo Finance the policies uncovered by The Intercept were the same or similar to those published by Netzpolitik late last year, and “they represented an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying”.
“We recognize that this was not the correct approach and have ended it,” they stated.
“As we told The Guardian and Netzpolitik last year when they originally reported this, the guidelines The Intercept published no longer in use and were already out of use when The Intercept accessed them. It is correct that for live streaming TikTok is particularly vigilant about keeping sexualised content off the platform.”
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