Story at a glance
- Tiktok is a video-sharing social networking service owned by Chinese company ByteDance that collects data on users to recommend content.
- A new report from Media Matters accuses the company of promoting homophobic and transphobic content to some users.
- The company expanded a hate speech ban in October, but media watchdogs say the problem persists.
TikTok’s “For You” page, the video-sharing platform’s version of a news feed or timeline, is quick to pick up details about its users: their interests, identities and even their biases. A new report found that the Chinese social networking service can even tell if users are homophobic — and will promote anti-LGBTQ content to them.
"Anti-LGBTQ content not only slides under TikTok’s radar but seems to be actively promoted by the company’s algorithm," said Olivia Little, a researcher at Media Matters, in the report.
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The media watchdog reviewed and tracked the videos TikTok recommended after liking anti-LGBTQ+ content, seeing the same content fed back to the account through the "For You" page. Examples included content celebrating homophobia, encouraging destruction of the pride flag and violence against LGBTQ+ people.
“Yall need to be ended asap,” wrote one user.
In October, the company cracked down on hate speech, including “content that promotes conversion therapy and the idea that no one is born LGBTQ.” TikTok’s community guidelines explicitly ban content that attacks, threatens, incites violence against, or otherwise dehumanizes an individual or a group on the basis of several protected classes, including sexual orientation, sex, gender and gender identity.
But a GLAAD report found that the hate speech description in the user reporting process was incomplete and that the company has its own internal biases' to confront, including shadow banning LGBTQ hashtags.
“The reality is that even though TikTok claims to prohibit discriminatory and hateful content, explicitly anti-LGBTQ videos are not only flourishing, but being fed directly to users’ 'For You' pages by the company’s algorithm. This is not a harmless oversight; this content that has the potential to encourage anti-LGBTQ attacks, an increasing problem in recent years," said Little in the report.
It's not all bad news for the popular app, however. The GlAAD report also praised the company's categorization of conversion therapy as hurtful and hateful - a step many other platforms have been hesitant to adopt - and TikTok said it is working to make the space a more inclusive one, partnering wit LGBTQ organizations to lift up their voices.
"TikTok is committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, and we work to create a welcoming community environment by removing anti-LGBTQ+ videos and accounts that attempt to spread hateful ideas on our platform," said a TikTok spokesperson by email, noting that the content cited in the Media Matter analysis was removed for violating the platform's policies.
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