TikTok calls for coalition with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to end the ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to curbing the spread of suicide videos and other harmful content
- TikTok approached nine social firms over a memorandum of understanding
- The firm approached Facebook, Google, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat and others
- The aim is to create a database of graphic content shared amongst platforms
- Doing so should make it easier for automated systems to remove content early
- TikTok is in the middle of a battle over the future of its US operations with Oracle and Walmart poised to take a stake to forstal the threat of a US download ban
TikTok wants to create a coalition with other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to track and stop the spread of harmful video content.
It comes as the Chinese-owned company said it removed over 104 million videos from its platform globally in the first half of the year for violating its terms of service.
Social networking apps face a barrage of criticism over issues including allowing the spread of misinformation and not acting fast enough to remove images of abuse.
The firm says graphic and harmful videos hop from one platform to another and stopping them can be like ‘playing a game of whack-a-mole’.
They want to create an early warning system shared amongst all social media platforms to alert moderation software of any impending graphic videos.
The move comes in part after videos circulated on TikTok earlier this month of a 33-year-old man from the US taking his own life – users kept uploading new versions of the clip making it difficult for the social platform to detect and remove the content.
TikTok said it was a ‘co-ordinated attack’ by a group operating on the dark web to keep sharing the video – originally broadcast live on Facebook – across platforms.
Social video platform TikTok has called for a new coalition of social media firms to help identify and remove harmful content before it spreads
TikTok has asked the CEOs of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit to meet to discuss the proposals.
‘By working together and creating a hashbank for violent and graphic content, we could significantly reduce the chances of people encountering it’, TikTok said.
Adding that this would prevent people from ‘enduring the emotional harm that viewing such content can bring – no matter the app they use.’
The company has written an open letter to the CEOs of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit.
They want to work on tracking suicide and similar content in the same way they do for child sexual abuse imagery and terrorist-related content, the firm said.
In a statement TikTok said content moves from one app to another, often leaving platforms with a ‘whack-a-mole approach’ to removing it.
‘Each individual effort by a platform to safeguard its users would be made more effective through a formal, collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst companies,’ the statement said.
This sort of collaboration is already happening in some areas of content such as child sexual abuse material – but TikTok said more could be done.
The firm says working together, social media companies could better protect people from extremely violent, graphic content including suicide.
This statement comes two weeks after footage of US Army veteran Ronnie McNutt shooting himself live on Facebook began to spread on TikTok.
TikTok has asked the CEOs of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit to meet to discuss the proposals
The videos were being shown and even recommended to users without any warnings attached as users re-uploaded and reshared the clips.
TikTok had to work to remove every instance with their systems automatically flagging them and banning users that repeatedly tried to upload the clips.
TIKTOK: A CHINESE-OWNED SOCIAL MEDIA APP SPECIALISING IN SHORT VIDEO CLIPS
TikTok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream, create short videos and music videos and Gifs with a host of functions.
TikTok’s tagline is ‘Make every second count’.
It was the most downloaded app in the US in 2018 and the world’s fourth most downloaded app in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known in China as Douyin where it was launched in 2016 and then made more widely available around the world in 2017.
Douyin is still the version of the app used in China, available to download separately to TikTok.
It offers users a raft if colourful modification and editing tools including overlaying music, sound, animated stickers, filters and augmented reality (AR) for creating short videos.
The Beijing based social network has more than 500 million active users and the company is now worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).
In 2020 Donald Trump called for the US arm of TikTok to be sold to an American company over fears the China-owned app posed a national security risk.
Talks are underway between ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart over US operations after Trump threatened a download ban in the US.
Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee, TikTok’s director of government relations and public policy in Europe, Theo Bertram, said the company had evidence that the wider spreading of the clip had been malicious.
‘What we saw was a group of users who were repeatedly attempting to upload the video to our platform – splicing it, editing it, cutting it in different ways – and join the platform to try and drive that,’ he explained.
He added that ‘one view of this type of content on our platform is one too many’ and that TikTok was already taking internal steps to improve its detection systems to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The app, a relative newcomer to the social media landscape, has had fewer instances of wrestling publicly with the persistent content moderation scandals that have dogged larger and more entrenched competitors like Facebook and Twitter.
As part of its Transparency Report, TikTok said the 104 million videos removed globally broke the apps terms and conditions.
‘Of those videos, we found and removed 96.4 per cent of videos before a user reported them, and 90.3 per cent were removed before they received any views.’
Andy Burrows, Head of Child Safety Online Policy for the NSPCC, said TikTok had ‘rightfully recognised’ that tech firms have to do better to act on graphic posts.
He said these posts caan be quickly spread online and can have an incredibly damaging impact on young people who see them.
‘Online harms are rarely siloed on a single site which is why the Government must require a cross industry response to get a head start in the cat and mouse game to remove dangerous content and prevent online grooming,’ Burrows added.
‘The Online Harms Bill proposals must also take legal but harmful content, including damaging self-harm and suicide posts, as seriously as they do illegal content.’
The company said on Tuesday it got 1,768 requests for user data, with 290, or 16.4 per cent, of those from US law enforcement agencies.
The video platform is owned by ByteDance but its US operations are the subject of takeover talks with Oracle and Walmart after President Donald Trump said the app would be banned from sale in the US if it wasn’t owned by an American company.
TikTok says it has sent letters to nine companies for a memorandum of understanding on content moderation
The move to ban TikTok in the US came after claims by Trump that the Chinese-owned app posed a national security threat.
US officials have expressed concerns that personal data of as many as 100 million Americans that use the app is being passed on to China’s Communist Party.
The specifics of the takeover depend on which side of the negotiations you are on.
ByteDance claim TikTok Global would become a subsidiary, 80 per cent owned by them and 20 per cent by Walmart and Oracle.
Whereas the US firms say the remaining 80 per cent would be owned by TikTok investors based in the US, rather than ByteDance.
The deal requires approval from regulators in both Beijing and Washington, ByteDance has said.
China’s Ministry of Commerce in late August revised a tech export control list that experts said would give it regulatory oversight over any TikTok deal.
Trump says he will ban TikTok downloads if ByteDance doesn’t agree to sell a majority stake to Oracle and Walmart.
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