The social media app TikTok has suppressed videos from multiple groups, including users who are disabled, those with facial disfigurements, and those with Down syndrome and autism, according to a new report.
The report by the German digital-rights website Netzpolitik.org said TikTok moderators were instructed to mark videos of certain types of users to limit the videos’ reach, including gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals as well as those who are overweight.
“The rules cause irritation on a very practical level: How is a moderator supposed to recognize whether someone has a disorder from the autistic spectrum based on 15 seconds of video?” Netzpolitik wrote. “Even more fundamentally, however, the directive shows ignorance of the debates about the visibility of people with disabilities in the media. These debates have been led over the past few years – driven mainly by the people themselves.”
As part of the policy, the report said, TikTok users who were disabled or part of other special groups would have viewership limited to the country from which they posted.
Fox News reported that after questions were raised, TikTok sent out a statement saying mistakes were made.
“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” the statement said.
“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, but rather a way to help manage a troubling trend. While the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong and we have since removed the policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections,” it said.
But that didn’t stop advocates for those with disabilities from blasting the move.
“We perceive this as censorship for which there is no basis. It is completely absurd not to punish the trolls, but the victims of cyberbullying,” Manuela Hannen and Christoph Krachten, who work for a German foundation that supports individuals with disabilities, told Netzpolitik in a statement.
Is this just another form of discrimination?
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The apology did not cut much ice with Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project.
“TikTok, the social media sensation du jour, has apparently been hobbling users who have physical disabilities. It did so in a misguided attempt to shield these people from bullying — heavy emphasis on the word ‘misguided,’” she tweeted.
“TikTok, the social media sensation du jour, has apparently been hobbling users who have physical disabilities. It did so in a misguided attempt to shield these people from bullying — heavy emphasis on the word “misguided.””#SuckItAbleism #TikTok https://t.co/O1n1RjGLSu
— Alice Wong (@SFdirewolf) December 4, 2019
“It is concerning that young people with disabilities have been actively excluded from participating on a platform that prides itself as being fun and inclusive,” said Liam Hackett, chief executive of the disability advocacy organization Ditch the Label said, according to the BBC.
“This approach is discriminatory and further demonizes disability, which we already know attracts a huge amount of abuse and intolerance,” he said.
Others were glad the policy had been recognized as a mistake and changed.
“It’s good that TikTok has ended this bizarre policy,” Ceri Smith of Scope, a British charity focusing on disability equality, told the BBC.
“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,” she said.
The fuss over muzzling users with disabilities comes at a time when the Chinese-owned app is being examined by federal lawmakers as a possible national security concern.
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