TikTok has announced plans to open a new transparency center in LA as part of its ongoing effort to distance itself from concerns around potential Chinese Government interference.
The center would facilitate more oversight into the platform’s moderation practices – as per TikTok:
“This new facility in our LA office will provide outside experts an opportunity to directly view how our teams at TikTok go about the day-to-day challenging, but critically important, work of moderating content on the platform. Through this direct observation of our Trust & Safety practices, experts will get a chance to evaluate our moderation systems, processes, and policies in a holistic manner.”
Through this new access point, which is scheduled to open in May, TikTok says that outside groups will be able to see how it trains its moderators and enforces its guidelines, and how users report concerns within the app.
“We expect the Transparency Center to operate as a forum where observers will be able to provide meaningful feedback on our practices. Our landscape and industry is rapidly evolving, and we are aware that our systems, policies, and practices are not flawless, which is why we are committed to constant improvement.”
TikTok has come under intense scrutiny over its moderation and data gathering practices, with various Government and regulatory groups raising concerns around how the Chinese-owned company goes about its business, and what obligations it ultimately has to share data with the Chinese Government.
On the moderation front, last September, The Guardian gained access to internal moderation guidelines for TikTok, which detailed how the app’s team is instructed to censor videos which mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong. In December, another investigation by Netzpolitik found that TikTok moderators had been instructed to limit the reach of content that had been uploaded by users who appeared to have disabilities, as part of a misguided effort to reduce cyberbullying in the app.
TikTok was also believed to be censoring discussion within the app in regards to the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
TikTok has revised its guidelines and processes in response to each case, and as noted in this announcement, it continues to work towards improving its systems. But the links to China have many in the west concerned. If TikTok wants to maximize its potential, it needs to ensure that it’s measures and policies are understood, in order to appease regulators, and users, as to how it operates.
The transparency center could go a long way towards improving this. As noted, TikTok plans to open the new center in May, with an initial focus on its content moderation practices.
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“Later, we will expand the Center to include insight into our source code, and our efforts around data privacy and security. This second phase of the initiative will be spearheaded by our newly appointed Chief Information Security Officer, Roland Cloutier, who starts with the company next month.”
Will it be enough to shift perception around the app – an app which, just a couple of weeks ago, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman labeled as ‘spyware’?
There are still some mountains to climb for Reddit on this front, but providing more transparency into its processes can only be a good thing.