Proud Boys symbol tattoo
Members of the Proud Boys, a far right organization dedicated to fighting with leftists, hold a rally on September 26, 2020 in Delta Park, on the northern edge of Portland, Oregon.
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  • TikTok is being more explicit about what qualifies as hate speech on its platform.
  • The company said it will ban hate symbols and coded hate language, and called out white supremacy, white genocide theory, and male supremacy as hate speech.
  • TikTok’s guidelines already ban hate speech and hateful ideology, but the announcement sees the firm condemn certain ideologies more explicitly.
  • TikTok’s update comes as Big Tech platforms rush to update policies and try and stem a flood of hate speech.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

TikTok has overhauled its community guidelines to better tackle coded language and symbols that help spread hate speech.

The company announced in a blog post on Wednesday morning that it “will stem the spread of coded language and symbols that can normalize hateful speech and behavior.”

The announcement comes shortly after TikTok joined the European Commission’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online.

The company says it will address the spread of white nationalism, white genocide theory, Identitarianism (an anti-immigration movement spreading in parts of Europe and elsewhere), and male supremacy.

Business Insider has previously reported that Identitarianism was linked to the 2019 Christchurch shooting, where a self-proclaimed fascist killed 49 people in a number of New Zealand mosques.

White supremacists have used TikTok to push their beliefs

The app, which was criticized in August by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization devoted to tackling anti-Semitism and hate, has faced issues with white supremacists and nationalists using coded messages to perpetuate their beliefs.

The ADL highlighted examples of TikTok posters using hashtags like “2316” (the numeric symbol for white power) and “88”, which is often used to circumvent moderation and is linked to the phrase “Heil Hitler”.

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“I do think this is an effort worth commending and it appears to be well aligned with what other platforms grappling with similar issues are tackling,” said Sabrina Ahmad, an MSc graduate from the Oxford Internet Institute who studied the cultural implications of content moderation.

“I think it’s worth acknowledging, however, the same way Facebook did that with any significant change in content moderation policies such as these, that TikTok won’t be getting it right the first time, and that there’s a good possibility that they won’t ever get it right fully.”

TikTok also said it would be taking “further action” to remove misinformation and hurtful stereotypes about Jewish, Muslim and other communities, including misinformation about prominent Jewish people, who are often subject to anti-Semitism.

However, the app’s internal content moderation policies, used by those policing posts, already guards against this. A version of TikTok’s content moderation policies, dating from late 2019 and seen by Business Insider, encourage moderators to delete “content depicting stereotype of a protected or identifiable group” under its hate speech section.

At the same time, TikTok is also beefing up its response to anti-LGBTQ+ content, including any videos that promote conversion therapy.

TikTok declined to provide examples of the type of content it would be taking down as a result of the updated policies. Its announcement comes a week after Facebook announced it would ban Holocaust denial content, after the site’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, confirmed his “thinking has evolved.”

TikTok won’t ban communities who reclaim banned phrases

The app says it is also introducing more nuance to its content to allow reclaiming of previously contentious words and phrases.

“Language previously used to exclude and demean groups of people is now being reclaimed by these communities and used as terms of empowerment and counter-speech,” the company said.

TikTok is trying to train its content moderation teams in different countries to understand better the nuance around the way these terms and phrases are used.

“If a member of a disenfranchised group, such as the LGBTQ+, Black, Jewish, Roma and minority ethnic communities, uses a word as a term of empowerment, we want our enforcement teams to understand the context behind it and not mistakenly take the content down,” the blog post read.

“On the other hand, if a slur is being used hatefully, it doesn’t belong on TikTok,” the company added. “Educating our enforcement teams on these crucial distinctions is ongoing work, and we strive to get this right for our community.”

“TikTok’s efforts to train its moderators in cultural nuance and contextualizing speech is laudable, but a bit of a moving target,” said Ahmad. “These efforts would probably be more effective if they started hiring (or continued to hire) on-the-ground moderators who already belong to those communities or regions and who can better understand the evolution of speech and symbols within those groups.”

A former TikTok content moderator, who asked not to be named because they signed a non-disclosure agreement when departing the company, questioned whether this was truly a change in policy.

“None of that is new, alongside the policies that impact the distribution of LGBT content which are also not new,” they said. “Hate speech is hate speech and there isn’t sudden enforcement due to a new coalition, it was always against the policy.”

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