TikTok is under the microscope in Washington as the Biden administration considers banning the Chinese video-sharing app, but the company has reacted with new community guidelines that only raise new questions.
The new guidelines, which TikTok released Tuesday, restrict discussions on climate change and vaccines, among other updates. The new guidelines even appear to allow the platform to ban what it deems “hateful organizations” for things they say or do away from the platform.
“We believe that everyone deserves to feel safe online, and that feeling safe is key to unlocking imagination and creative expression,” the company said in announcing the new rules.
Under the new guidelines, TikTok will ban “climate change misinformation that undermines well-established scientific consensus, such as denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it.”
Vaccines are also a newly regulated topic under the new guidelines. “Misleading statements about vaccines” are banned.
The new guidelines also ban “deepfakes” or AI-generated images and videos of young people and private figures.
The old TikTok community guidelines, which are set to expire April 21, ban “hateful ideologies” including “anti-LGBTQ” and the “organized hate groups” that embrace these ideologies. The new guidelines keep these bans. “Deadnaming or misgendering” a trans-identifying person is still banned under the new guidelines.
The old guidelines also banned “misinformation” defined as “content that is inaccurate or false,” but TikTok said it does not remove any and all inaccurate information.
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TikTok’s new guidelines expand what counts as misinformation.
Originally, TikTok banned simply “content that misleads community members about elections or other civic processes.” Now, TikTok will ban misinformation specifically about the “final results or outcome of an election.” The app will also suppress “unverified claims about the outcome of an election that is still unfolding and may be false or misleading.” The latter kind of content will not be eligible for the For You page, which is a personalized feed that serves as TikTok’s main content discovery tool.
Originally, TikTok also banned “misinformation related to emergencies that induces panic.” Now, the app will ban “unverified information related to an emergency or unfolding event where the details are still emerging.”
The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. over national security concerns about the way the Chinese-owned social media company handles Americans’ data. TikTok’s Chinese owners must give up ownership of the U.S. version of the app in order to avoid the U.S. ban, the Biden administration warned.
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress and attempted to reassure lawmakers that Americans’ data is safe from the Chinese government. However, Chew declined to respond directly when asked whether Chinese officials at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance helped him prepare for the congressional hearing.
Chew also told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that he is against the Biden administration’s demand that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell the app or face a ban.
The Chinese government said Thursday it would “firmly oppose” the sale of TikTok as well.
A potential TikTok ban is popular among Americans. About 41% of Americans said they support the federal government banning TikTok, according to a new Washington Post poll. Just 25% of Americans say they are against banning the app, the poll found.
Earlier this week, Chew said that TikTok now has 150 million active users in the U.S., up from the 100 million TikTok said it had in 2020.