TikTok, an international short-video platform owned by Beijing-based ByteDance was found to be limiting the reach of users with disabilities, according to Netzpolitik.org. The report came from a source inside the company, which said that the policy was intended to stop potential bullying on the platform, but instead resulted in discrimination against disabled users.
The moderation of the content shown to and produced by the disabled users was left to the personal judgement of the platform’s content moderation team, who needed to make judgements about the users’ physical and mental attributes. Certain users’ videos were labeled into different risk categories, which would limit the exposure of these videos through TikTok’s content recommendation algorithms. Although these tags were applied to individual videos, reports suggest that for a small number of disabled users, these risk categories were the default, uniformly applied to the content they produced.
A spokesperson from TikTok told Netzpolitik.org that these policies were “never intended to be a long-term solution,” and instead meant to combat conflict on the platform. A spokesperson for the company also told The Verge that, “Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy. While the intention was good, the approach was wrong and we have long since changed the earlier policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections.” However the source from Netzpolitik.org said the TikTok’s moderators had been instructed to follow these policies as recently as September.
While TikTok has been the subject of scrutiny in the United States amidst accusations of political censorship, ableist content moderation represents a new abuse of power by the video sharing platform.
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