On January 8, TikTok, ByteDance’s popular video-sharing app issued a sweeping ban on “misleading information” that could harm its users or the public. Other social media companies have taken various stances on monitoring or removing misleading information. Facebook has notably stated it will not monitor content for misleading information. TikTok has also been criticized for moderating its content, especially Hong Kong protest videos or content that was critical of China, where its owners are based, which has concerned American lawmakers. American officials are also concerned about how TikTok handles user data, fearing a national security threat.
Previously, TikTok primarily focused on scams, prohibiting users from creating fake accounts or posting false information to make money. The new guidelines added a specific rule for misleading information. The guidelines stated:
“We do not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public. While we encourage our users to have respectful conversations about the subjects that matter to them, we remove misinformation that could cause harm to an individual’s health or wider public safety. We also remove content distributed by disinformation campaigns.”
TikTok advises users not to post: “Misinformation meant to incite fear, hate or prejudice”; “Misinformation that may cause harm to an individual’s health, such as misleading information about medical treatments”; “Hoaxes, phishing attempts, or manipulated content meant to cause harm”; “Content that misleads community members about elections or other civic processes.” If a user posts content that goes against this new guideline, TikTok will remove it.
TikTok did not explain how it would determine what comprises misleading content and there seems to be room for interpretation and enforcement. However, for example, the new policy would likely lead to the removal of 2016’s conspiracy theory Pizzagate, the District of Columbia based Clinton-linked pizzeria involved in child exploitation, which led to a man firing an assault rifle at the pizzeria. Other conspiracy theories would also be removed. Unlike Facebook, TikTok would consider the considerably edited Nancy Pelosi video misleading and would remove it.
TikTok is the latest social media platform to take a stance on misleading information and deepfakes.