TikTok revamps community guidelines amid looming threat of US ban

Amendments are meant to assure users of safety and help them 'better understand the decisions about how the platform works'

The ByteDance-owned social media platform TikTok has long faced allegations that it is a threat to national security. AFP
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TikTok, the globally popular short video-sharing application, has revamped its community guidelines in a bid to provide more transparency on its use amid a looming threat of a ban in the US.

The ByteDance-owned app, which has long faced allegations that it is a threat to national security, said the amendments to the guidelines are meant to assure users of safety and help them to “better understand the decisions about how the platform works”, TikTok said in a statement on Tuesday.

Among the key changes to the platform are advancing rules for how it treats synthetic media, which is content created or modified by artificial intelligence, and adding the word “tribe” as a protected attribute in its hate speech and hateful behaviour policies.

The rules and guidelines have been organised thematically into different topic areas, including behavioural and mental health, it said.

TikTok said it consulted with more than 100 global organisations in the reshaping of its guidelines, helping “strengthen their rules and respond to new threats and potential harms”.

It will also provide more detail on how it protects civic and election integrity, including its approach to government, politician and political party accounts.

Why is the US concerned about TikTok?

Why is the US concerned about TikTok?

The changes come as TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew prepares to make his first ever appearance before the US Congress on Thursday, when he is expected to be grilled on the allegations.

TikTok said the changes are to take effect starting April 21, and it will provide additional training to its moderators to help enforce the updated rules.

“These principles are based on TikTok's commitment to uphold human rights and aligned with international legal frameworks,” it said.

“These principles guide TikTok's decisions about how they moderate content, so that the platform can strive to be fair in their actions, protect human dignity, and strike a balance between freedom of expression and preventing harm.”

TikTok did not explicitly say that the revamp is in response to the spectre of being banned in the US.

"Over the last few years, we've released yearly updates to our community guidelines. This is our most comprehensive refresh to date, and it's been in the making for months, with our safety professionals consulting TikTok creators and external experts to help strengthen our rules," a TikTok spokesperson told The National on Tuesday.

Several countries have raised concerns over TikTok's ties to Beijing and how the Chinese government can use the platform to harvest data from its users.

A number of countries have already instituted an outright ban on the app, including India and Pakistan.

Other countries and territories, including the US, the UK, France, Denmark, Belgium, New Zealand and Taiwan, have banned TikTok from government phones or on devices that have access to government data.

Critics also say TikTok and short video-scrolling apps like it are bad for users' mental health and attention spans, particularly that of teenagers.

Last week, US President Joe Biden's administration demanded that TikTok's owners divest their stakes in the app or risk a ban. Mr Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, attempted to ban TikTok in 2020, only to be blocked by US courts.

TikTok has continuously denied the allegations of data harvesting by Beijing, while China has accused the US of “unreasonably suppressing” the platform.

An outright ban in the US would deal a huge blow to TikTok, which now has about 150 million users in the world's biggest economy, it said on Monday, as reported by Reuters.

Globally, the app is the sixth-biggest platform, with more than a billion monthly active users, trailing WeChat, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and market leader Facebook, according to Statista.

Its advertising revenue has surged each year since 2019, recording significant jumps annually: From $340 million in 2019, the company has grown the figure multifold to more than $18 billion in 2023, data from e-commerce platform Oberlo showed.

“Through these refreshed community guidelines, TikTok is offering their community more transparency around their rules and how they're enforced,” it said.

Updated: March 21, 2023, 2:39 PM