For many years, there has long been a debate about whether Chinese-owned tech companies are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and whether they have undue influence over consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Now a whistleblower has spoken out alleging the parent company of TikTok is beholden to the CCP.
The allegations stem from an employee of ByteDance, who has alleged that he was told to often delete content related to the COVID-19 outbreak in its earliest days, as well as other content that was deemed controversial by the Chinese state.
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He claims that the Chinese government has been using TikTok to suppress minorities, censor freedom of speech and mask human rights violations, demanding the company create algorithms that identify minority Uighur-language posts that would then automatically be censored or deleted – as well as deleting content critical of the Chinese government.
The whistleblower worked on a central technology team that supports the Trust and Safety team, which sits within ByteDance’s core data department. The data department is mainly devoted to developing technologies for short-video platforms.
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Writing in an article on the website Protocol.com, the anonymous whistleblower says ByteDance is not only operating freely in America, but it’s also ironically opening “Transparency Centers” in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to showcase “moderation practices,” when in fact the company is silencing and violating the rights of millions of people in China.
Mostly the content censored by the Chinese government is what they consider morally hazardous — pornography, lewd conversations, nudity, graphic images and curse words — as well as unauthorized livestreaming sales and content that violated copyright. But often it was more targeted.
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“When it comes to day-to-day censorship,” the whistleblower says “the Cyberspace Administration of China would frequently issue directives to ByteDance’s Content Quality Center, which oversees the company’s domestic moderation operation: sometimes over 100 directives a day. They would then task different teams with applying the specific instructions to both ongoing speech and to past content, which needed to be searched to determine whether it was allowed to stand.”
The argument has continued for some years of whether Chinese companies such as Huawei – which are taking over an ever-increasing amount of control – are in fact Chinese government Trojan horses, in particular TikTok, which is used by millions of people is in fact a way for China to monitor and manipulate free thought, and harness U.S. consumers.