A New York–based lingerie brand is accusing TikTok of discriminatory practices, claiming that the app has penalized its content featuring “plus-size, Black, and/or differently abled models and women of color.”
A spokesperson for Adore Me shared the brand's experiences in a thread on Twitter that has since gone viral. The thread included examples of videos that the brand said it had uploaded to TikTok and that were subsequently removed for breaching the platform's guidelines.
In response to Adore Me's complaints, TikTok reinstated three of the company's videos it said it had removed in error. "Let us be clear: TikTok does not moderate content on the basis of shape, size, or ability,” said a spokesperson for TikTok in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
The e-commerce brand founded by Morgan Hermand-Waiche in 2010 has nearly 10,000 followers on TikTok. However, the company said on Twitter it has experienced challenges since joining the platform, which have made growth difficult.
Ranjan Roy, the company's VP of strategy, told BuzzFeed News that having a presence on all social media platforms is important to Adore Me. TikTok has been especially key, given its accelerated growth in a short period of time.
“You see its impact on popular culture, like, take the Ocean Spray guys recently and over and over again... Especially for a consumer-facing brand like us, we felt it's something that we had to invest in a little bit,” said Roy.
However, Roy said they began to notice things on the platform that troubled them. In one instance, Adore Me claimed it had posted two very similar TikToks, one featuring a Black creator and one featuring a white creator. The brand claimed the two videos were treated differently by the platform, as the one featuring a Black creator was taken down while the one fronted by a white creator was allowed to remain.
“At first we just kind of assumed, Lingerie, a new platform, maybe they’re being more aggressive on brand safety,” Roy said.
Roy said Adore Me would contact TikTok every time a video was taken down.
“As a decently large brand, we’ll get a response, and the response is usually ‘thank you for the inquiry, we're looking into it,’ and then absolutely nothing from there,” said Roy.
In its viral thread, Adore Me also highlighted previous news reports, including an article published by the Intercept, which reported that TikTok moderators were told in an internal memo to suppress content from users considered “too ugly, poor or disabled.” (A TikTok spokesperson told the publication that the memo “represented an early blunt attempt at preventing bullying, but are no longer in place, and were already out of use when The Intercept obtained them.”)
More recently, TikTok has been accused by Black content creators on the platform of removing accounts without clear reasons. The company told BuzzFeed News in that instance that it is "committed to seeing that our policies and practices are fair and equitable."
“How does the TikTok algorithm currently work? How has TikTok supposedly fixed the discriminatory attributes that were directly built into it?” asked the brand in its viral thread.
Adore Me said it would continue to fight for its mission to "make lingerie and fashion more inclusive."
"We work with models of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds, and we refuse to change the models we work with to satisfy the hidden demands of the TikTok algorithm,” the brand said on Twitter.
Since the company’s viral thread, and the support shown for it, TikTok reversed its position and reinstated three previously removed videos, calling the initial takedowns an “error.”
The TikTok spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company is committed to promoting “body acceptance,” but failed to specify what errors had led to the initial removal of Adore Me’s content.
But Roy isn’t convinced and doesn’t believe this will be the end of their issues.
He said this doesn't just affect the brand — it also affects the content creators.
“The thing to remember is there are real people on the other side. We are paying someone to create content for us," he said. "And then if that is taken down, there have been cases where the creator will apologize. They're worried that they need to do something else for us, to create a different video perhaps with more clothing, and the pressure that that would put on one woman versus another, it's awful."