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UN experts ask TikTok not to trash rights principles while undertaking content moderation

TikTok, video-sharing social networking service. (Photo courtesy: Yahoo)

(TibetanReview.net, May22’20) – China’s use of its business companies to carry out the government’s political agenda came into sharp focus when the owner of the video-sharing platform TikTok was asked by UN human rights experts not to violate international human rights standards through censorship while undertaking the task of content moderation.

The UN’s concern was raised by David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Githu Muigai, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, in a 10-page letter dated May 15 to Mr Zhang Yiming, Founder and Owner of TikTok.

The video-sharing social networking service had caused an uproar when it banned a US teen from posting videos criticizing China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Following a global outcry, TikTok was forced to apologize and reinstate the US teen’s videos and account.

A leaked internal TikTok document revealed how the Chinese company ordered its moderators to censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan issue, or the spiritual group Falun Gong.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has said in a report that ByteDance the parent company of TikTok founded in 2012, was playing an active role in disseminating the Chinese Communist Government’s propaganda.

The Chinese state control over this widely used app has triggered various privacy and security concerns. The US government agencies that included the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration have banned TikTok over security concerns. There is also a call in India too for it to be banned.

In their letter, the UN human rights experts have quoted the 2018 report by David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which said: “the vagueness of hate speech and harassment policies has triggered complaints of inconsistent policy enforcement that penalizes minorities while reinforcing the status of dominant or powerful groups.”

The experts have further urged the company to clearly articulate its commitment to respect human rights in their terms of service and community standards. In particular, they have urged TikTok to ensure “fundamental commitment to non-discrimination.”

The experts have also said, “Companies responding to government removal requests must also keep in mind that any restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be exceptional and that States bear the burden of demonstrating the consistency of such restrictions with the human rights principles.”

The experts have found TikTok’s guidelines on Transparency vague and stressed that human rights responsibilities require a more holistic approach to transparency. They have asked the company to adhere to human rights standards which would provide “a framework for TikTok to avoid blatant human rights violations.”

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