TikTok has issued an apology to the black community, acknowledging the criticisms of failing content creators and accusations that it had censored their voices when it comes to racism.
“Recently, our users have voiced tough but fair questions about whether all creators have an equal opportunity for their content to be seen and their experiences affirmed on TikTok,” said the statement authored by Vanessa Pappas, the app's general manager, and Kudzi Chikumbu, director of the creator community.
“We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed.”
The app has been accused of discouraging black creators from speaking out against anti-blackness and being a hub for racism. Iman Tura, 16, is one of many black creators who have expressed frustration and took part in an online demonstration just last month.
Tura told BuzzFeed News: “When I joined TikTok, I honestly created content for my friends to laugh at, but as time went on I noticed injustices. Racism on the app is blatant. The censorship of people speaking out against injustice paired with the allowance of white supremacists to have platforms is unacceptable and needs to change.”
She has called on fellow TikTokers to give the app a one-star review on June 19, or Juneteenth.
If TikTok failed to lay out a plan for how it would better serve the community, Tura and her peers had originally intended on deleting their accounts altogether. However, they later decided that out of respect for and solidarity with Pride, they will no longer be leaving the app.
Tura shared that she experienced racism “daily” on the platform and regularly came across racist content that managed to pass the community standards test.
“The biggest challenge as a creator of color is firstly people's blatant racism and secondly the fact that we can’t even speak out about injustice without being taken down,” said Tura.
“TikTok does nothing for Black creators that are attacked daily because of the color of their skin but protects the racist content even when reported. That just shows how much the way community guidelines implementation needs to change.”
Bernard Velasquez, a TikToker who recently created an account, also shared what he had observed and considered to be problematic on the app.
“I think the biggest challenge Black creators have on the platform is being silenced,” he said. “Although I have been on the app for a short period of time, I pay attention, and the most common issue I see happening is Black creators having their posts or accounts shadow-banned and/or randomly deleted for 'going against community guidelines.'”
Velasquez said that in his experience, when black creators would flag racist videos to the company, they would often get a response that said: “This does not go against our community guidelines.”
“When I read that statement, knowing that I just watched a video with a text box that says, ‘Now that I have all the Black people's attention,’ and then the white boy proceeds to get on his knees as he makes a joke about the Black community being targets of police brutality, it proves to me that TikTok condones and welcomes racism,” he said.
Speaking on the community guidelines, Chikumbu and Pappas said racism and hate speech are “not tolerated” — but they acknowledged that the app's method of moderating could improve.
“We use technology and a dedicated team of human moderators to remove content that violates these guidelines, but we know that our systems are not perfect and we want users to flag content they feel violates those standards so we can take appropriate action,” wrote Chikumbu and Pappas.
Chikumbu and Pappas also addressed a most recent accusation that TikTok had deliberately muted critical hashtags that were being used as the nation protested the death of George Floyd, blaming the mishap on a “technical glitch.”
The statement said this was a “display issue only that widely affected hashtags at large.” They said that content with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was still being uploaded to the platform and had generated “well over 2 billion views.”
“We understand that many assumed this bug to be an intentional act to suppress the experiences and invalidate the emotions felt by the Black community. And we know we have work to do to regain and repair that trust,” the statement read.
In the statement, the company announced it has pledged $3 million to nonprofit organizations that help the black community, plus an additional $1 million “toward fighting the racial injustice and inequality.”
The company also said it plans to implement various long-term and ongoing initiatives with the hopes of addressing the issues raised and creating a better environment for black creators.
This includes investing in technology and moderation strategies, establishing a creator diversity council, and expanding the remit of its own internal diversity task force, it said.