The social media app TikTok censors videos that are uploaded to its platform at the behest of the Chinese state, according to a trove of documents leaked to the Guardian.
TikTok instructs moderators for the app to censor content that casts China in a negative light, including any vides that reference Tiananmen Square, the Falun Gong religious group, and Tibetan independence. There is also suspicion that the app is censoring videos related to the Hong Kong protests against Chinese encroachment on its independence.
When the Washington Post searched for Hong Kong on the app, the results barely showed any sign of the protests or unrest.
TikTok’s guidelines for censoring specific content are usually included under more generalized headings. For example, the order to block anything including “criticism/attack towards policies, social rules of any country” contains a subcategory that bans criticism of China’s socialist government.
The app also bans any reference to “highly controversial topics, such as separatism, religion sects conflicts, [or] conflicts between ethnic groups,” which includes the Chinese conflict with Taiwan and the Tibetan independence movement.
There is also a list of twenty foreign leaders whose names are banned from the app, including Donald Trump and Barack Obama along with the heads of state of both Koreas, Japan and India. However, Chinese Communist Party chair Xi Jinping is not banned.
TikTok is owned by Bytedance, a technology company based in Beijing. They denied that the censorship guidelines enumerated by the Guardian were still in force, claiming to have changed the guidelines before the current protests in Hong Kong broke out.
TikTok is popular worldwide, mostly among young people under the age of 25.