TikTok said a “technical glitch” last week made it temporarily appear as if videos using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd hashtags had zero views — and the short-form video company vowed to do better in representing and supporting black creators.
Many TikTok users assumed the issue was an intentional act of censorship by the company, which is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance. But TikTok execs claimed the problem was only “a display issue,” adding that videos with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag have currently generated more than 2 billion views.
“We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed,” Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s U.S. GM, and director of creator community Kudzi Chikumbu wrote in a blog post Monday. “We don’t ever want anyone to feel that way. We welcome the voices of the Black community wholeheartedly.”
The issue came to the fore amid ongoing protests across the U.S. over the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody.
TikTok has been accused of censoring videos in the past, including those in support of pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong last year, which was among the issues raised concerns among U.S. lawmakers about its Chinese ownership. TikTok claimed that it had never censored content at the direction of Chinese officials. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” TikTok said in a statement in October 2019.
TikTok said it is participating in Blackout Tuesday on June 2, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As part of that, TikTok is turning off all playlists and campaigns on the Sounds page “to observe a moment of reflection and action,” Pappas and Chikumbu wrote.
June 1 also marked the first day on the job for incoming TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer, a former top Disney exec. In a post on TikTok, Mayer said: “As I begin my work at TikTok, it has never been a more important time to support Black employees, users, creators, artists, and our broader community. I am making this commitment from today, my Day 1.”
Mayer continued, “Words can only go so far. I invite our community to hold us accountable for the actions we take over the coming weeks, months, and years. Black Lives Matter.”
TikTok said its teams are now working on ways to “elevate and support Black voices and causes.”
That includes investing in identifying and removing racist content that violates its policies, as well as improving the user appeals process over moderation decision. TikTok also said it is establishing a “creator diversity council” to promote “voices driving culture, creativity, and important conversations on the platform,” and developing a creator portal to improve communication and collaboration “for our broader creator community,” Pappas and Chikumbu wrote.
In addition, TikTok said it is donating $3 million to nonprofit organizations that help the black community, which has been disproportionately affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company pledged another $1 million toward “fighting the racial injustice and inequality that we are witnessing in this country,” the execs said.