TikTok users are accusing the company of racial bias after their videos are removed

The videos are being flagged up as ‘violating Community Guidelines’


Linasha is a beauty content creator on TikTok with over 4000 followers. She’s 22, Sri Lankan and currently living in London. She posts videos of her applying make-up and is popular for her content, however, she often has issues because the app frequently removes her videos. In the last two months, over seven videos have been removed because they “violate Community Guidelines”.

Around the same time as this, a thread on Twitter was going viral. It detailed TikTok users who shared Linasha’s experience of having videos deleted for unfair reasons. They couldn’t see how the videos they were posting were offensive, and the majority felt they were being discriminated against because of their race and/or their weight.

Linasha replied to the thread saying: “They’ve literally taken down my makeup videos of mine bc they said it violated their community guidelines when I asked for them to give me an exact reason why they refused to comment lol they hate darker skinned Brown and Black women. Their racism is beyond transparent”.

When I messaged Linasha about her experience, she explained that various make-up videos she’d posted were being deleted and flagged up as going against their guidelines. She sent me one of the videos that got deleted which was 14 seconds of her applying highlighter to a song.

Here’s the video that was deleted:

Linasha can’t understand how these videos went against TikTok’s Community Guidelines. Instead, she believes they were deleted because she’s not white.

TikTok recently updated its guidelines in January 2020. These were the guidelines in place when Linasha’s videos were removed and they are fully inclusive – they don’t suggest any discrimination against race, weight, age, gender or sexuality. However, in the past, this hasn’t been the case.

In the last six months, the app has received bad publicity from The Guardian and The Intercept about the previous guidelines that were in place and the discriminatory language that was used in it.

One section of the old guidelines stated TikTok moderators should suppress content with: “Abnormal body shapes, chubby, have obvious beer belly, obese, or too thin”. Moderators should also suppress content with: “Ugly facial looks or facial deformities”.

When we asked TikTok about these old guidelines, they told us that these are out of date and have been for many months. When I asked exactly when these guidelines were removed, they wouldn’t say.

They explained these guidelines do not reflect their values and stated that the ones around issues like appearance were developed in response to a spike in bullying that they saw – the initial goal was apparently to protect users.

Although they said these rules were in place because of bullying and to protect users, in the manual it states the reason behind the rules is actually to ensure videos are “attractive”. The manual states: “If the character’s appearance or the shooting environment is not good, the video will be much less attractive, not worthing to be recommended to new users”.

Of course, what is considered to be “attractive”, “abnormal” or “ugly” is subject to the moderator’s opinion and, with this, their own prejudices.

Credit: Instagram @linnygd

TikTok strongly emphasised that these guidelines were not in place when Linasha’s videos were removed and so there is no link to what is said in the old guidelines and the removal of her videos. However, when looking at the new guidelines her videos haven’t gone against any of them – so why were they deleted?

As soon as we emailed TikTok about Linasha’s allegations, her videos were restored. They then replied saying they can’t explain why her videos were deleted and so blamed it on “error”.

Their reasoning was that they use both technologies and human moderation teams to identify, review and remove content that violates their Community Guidelines. They added that they are continuously trying to improve their technologies and policies to ensure TikTok remains a safe place.

Fair enough, mistakes happen. However, Linasha suspected a mistake was made and so appealed the videos straight away – she got no response. When I asked TikTok why her appeal was ignored, they again blamed it on “error”.

Turns out it’s not just your average 20-year-old who’s had their TikTok content removed for unknown reasons. Early March this year, Lizzo also called out TikTok when her videos were deleted and she didn’t understand why. She posted a video to her TikTok saying: “Tiktok keeps taking down my videos with me in my bathing suits but allows other videos with girls in bathing suits. I wonder why? Tiktok… we need to talk.”

While Lizzo’s videos were being taken down, Charli D’Amelia, one of the biggest TikTok creators with over 48 million followers,  posts multiple bikini videos that remain on her account.

We approached TikTok for comment about the removal of Lizzo’s video. They told us: “We’re thrilled that Lizzo, whose music has been a driver of many popular trends within the TikTok community, uses the app to express herself and share her experiences.”

They also said they spoke to Lizzo at the time that the story was initially published and that she knows why the content was removed. When asked what those reasons were, they said they can’t disclose this information.

Other than Lizzo, Amber Gill has also been open about her own videos being flagged up as problematic on the app without fair reason. Earlier this month, she tweeted: “You are telling me MY TikToks get put up for review immediately when the bottom of bra shows but little miss can come with the smoke blurting racial slurs everywhere and that’s good to go?????????????????”.

We asked if they had any further comment on Amber’s tweet but they didn’t give us one.

Amber, Lizzo and Linasha have all accused the app of deleting innocent videos and justifying this action by stating that they violate their Community Guidelines.

For Linasha, it’s frustrating. She feels like she’s being penalised for unfair reasons. “I love creating content on Tiktok, however, the app has proven to me that it has repeatedly discriminated against me because of my skin colour and my body and it won’t recognise its own faults”, she said. “This is exactly why we need more Black and Brown people in tech. I won’t be using apps that clearly don’t welcome me”.

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