TikTok apologizes for BLM hashtag glitch after censorship allegations

Last week, a viral Tweet accused TikTok of blocking the #blacklivesmatter and #georgefloyd hashtags amid in-person and online mobilization protesting the killing of George Floyd in police custody. While Twitter and TikTok users described the situation as an example of the video-sharing platform censoring black voices, TikTok stated that the dramatically reduced view count surrounding the hashtags was the result of a technical glitch. The app has since issued several statements regarding the issue, apologizing for the “confusion and pain” caused by the error and noting that the glitch applied to a wide range of hashtags.Creators, however, are continuing to accuse the platform of limiting black creators — an issue that has garnered significant attention online in recent months.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

TikTok has responded to accusations that the video-sharing platform censored the #blacklivesmatter hashtag amid widespread protests against the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed during an arrest on May 25 when a white officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes. Accusations of censorship surfaced on Thursday when a TikTok user noticed that he was not able to see posts with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, as a preliminary search for the term showed that the hashtag had “0 views.””TikTok blocked the #blacklivesmatter tag and ever single tag related to #GeorgeFloyd,” @revengejda wrote in a tweet which quickly racked up over 100,000 likes. “This is disgusting. F-ck TikTok.”—damian ᵇˡᵐ (@revengedja) May 28, 2020The comments section quickly flooded with outrage from Twitter and TikTok users saying that the platform discriminated against black voices.  

“just admit your platform is anti-black,” one commenter wrote. “we’ve seen the stuff you promote and the stuff you remove from your platform. you are anti-black.”TikTok support also replied to the viral tweet, noting that the company was “aware of an issue ” related to hashtag view counts — an issue which appeared to affect “words at random, including terms like #cat and #hello.” The problem, they said, was being investigated and a support team was “working quickly to address the issue.”TikTok support also released a statement on Twitter, explaining that inaccurate view count was the result of technical glitch that “widely affected the view count displayed on hashtags in the upload stage.”The glitch, the tweet explained, temporarily impacted view count displays on hashtags — but only in the app’s “Compose” screen. Hashtags, videos, and “discovery of uploaded content,” TikTok said, were not affected by the bug. 

In a follow-up tweet, the company clarified that while a range of hashtags on the app had been impacted by the glitch, the error affecting #blacklivesmatter hashtag was particularly “painful.” “we recognize that it unfortunately came at a painful time for the Black community in particular,” the tweet read. “We deeply value the diverse voices on TikTok, and we apologize for the confusion and pain this situation caused.”—TikTokSupport (@TikTokSupport) May 29, 2020The tweets continued to receive criticism from commenters accusing the platform of removing black creators’ videos and being unresponsive to appeals for their reinstatement. “You do not respond to emails and continue to ignore black creators when videos are removed that do not go against your guidelines… you have yet to respond to my many appeals,” one Twitter user wrote. 

“There are black creators getting banned for absolutely no reason,” another said. “I don’t know who @tiktok_us is run by but we need to be heard. Where on YOUR app helping YOU make money. So we must be heard.”Over the weekend, TikTok issued another statement on Twitter addressing the “confusion & hurt” caused by the glitch. “We hear you & apologize for the confusion & hurt brought by yesterday’s bug in Compose that made it seem like hashtags had 0 views,” the statement read. “We know this came at a painful time for the Black community. We stand with you & are committed to providing a platform where all are seen and heard.”—TikTok (@tiktok_us) May 30, 2020TikTok subsequently posted another statement on Twitter and Instagram, reiterating previous tweets and noting that the #blacklivesmatter and #georgefloyd hashtags had racked up 1 billion views on the platform.  “At TikTok we deeply value the diverse voices among our users, creators, artists, partners, and employees,” the statement said.  “We stand with the Black community and are proud to provide a platform where #blacklivesmatter and #georgefloyd generate powerful and important content with over 1 billion views.”

—TikTok (@tiktok_us) May 30, 2020 “Lol deleted. Not redownloading ever,” one Twitter user responded, receiving over 900 likes. “this ain’t even an apology ……. and it doesn’t even feel genuine if it’s supposed to be one.””Thanks for saying that my video where I translated a BLM message was against ur guidelines,” another creator wrote, attaching a screenshot of a message from the app that a video had been “removed for violating community guidelines.”A spokesperson for TikTok told Insider in a statement that TikTok “identified and resolved” a technical issue affecting the view count shown on hashtags in the upload stage.”This bug had temporarily affected view count displays on hashtags in the Compose screen only; it did not affect tags, videos, or discovery of uploaded content. We apologize for the confusion this caused for our community,” the statement read.  

The lastest upset online follows months of accusations that the platform censors black creators’ content.As several commenters alluded to in their responses to TikTok’s tweets, people have previously accused the app of censoring videos by people of color — and, more recently, some have mobilized to uplift creators who they believe have been marginalized by the app. In May, several black creators encouraged allies to participate in a “black out” by changing their TikTok profile photos to a picture of a raised black fist and following new black creators. Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, created the black out movement after posting a TikTok video calling on content creators to participate.”I did this because black creators are being silenced on TikTok and other social media platforms and I am fed up. Our videos are taken down and our accounts are banned when we speak against racism,” she told CNN.”I want TikTok to change their policies when it comes to black and brown creators. We should not be punished for speaking against racism. The accounts of actual racists should be taken down.”

The platform has even admitted to censoring content in the past. In 2019, the Guardian reported that the app had previously censored content from creators deemed “susceptible to bullying or harassment based on their physical or mental condition.” TikTok told the outlet that the approach that “blunt the temporary” approach to combatting bullying on the platform had been changed to make way for “more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections.”Read more:TikTok owner ByteDance reportedly hit $3 billion in net profit in 2019TikTok star Charli D’Amelio spoke out in support of George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement

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