August 30, 2021
Dear Shou Zi Chew and Vanessa Pappas:
In a relatively short amount of time, your platform has grown exponentially and amassed an unprecedented base of more than 1 billion users worldwide. It is because of this unprecedented reach, particularly with teens and pre-teens, that we are writing with grave concerns about the problems of hate speech and violence on TikTok that were uncovered by a new report issued by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (“Hatescape: An In-Depth Analysis of Extremism and Hate Speech on TikTok.”). The report clearly demonstrates that TikTok has a serious content moderation problem; your terms of service are not sufficiently being enforced or curbing the spread of extremist and even terrorist-related footage from being easily discoverable and spread to the masses. We urge you to act immediately to remedy the dangers that ISD has identified.
Most concerning in ISD’s report is the breadth of hate that is rapidly spreading across TikTok on a daily basis. Whether it’s content that praises and celebrates the actions of terrorists and extremist, denies the existence of historically violent incidents such as genocides, or hate and violence directed at Muslims, Jews, Asians, Black people, refugees, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, ISD’s report demonstrates that this is not a problem that is narrow in scope or limited to isolated incidents. That is why we are urging you to take substantive action now before it is too late.
ISD has suggested several policy changes based on their findings. These range from overarching calls for improved content moderation, specifically with a call for better enforcement of existing policies as they relate to removing terrorist content from TikTok, to addressing language gaps that exist in current content moderation programs and developing a better understanding of how bad actors exploit loopholes to spread hate on TikTok. That includes evolving moderation programs that are currently limited in scope as they relate to hashtag bans. These, along with broader calls for transparency and data access that will bolster accountability, are all of critical importance for TikTok to begin curbing the dangerous content circulating on its platform. We urge you to quickly act on each of these recommendations.
We’ve already seen countless examples of online hate translating to offline violence, both in the United States and around the globe, often with deadly consequences. It’s because of this dangerous reality that TikTok has a responsibility to act to address gaps in your content moderation policies and boost transparency more widely for the public and researchers. For some populations around the world, this is a matter of life and death.
As the ISD report clearly demonstrates, there is a sizable gap between TikTok’s content moderation policies and the platform’s actual enforcement. Policies are only as good as their actual application and enforcement, and to that end, TikTok is failing on too many fronts. That failure has led to bad actors actively leveraging your platform to spread hate and violence with the potential for grave consequences.
What ISD has identified is a platform wide problem that requires comprehensive solutions that must be implemented immediately. The potential for grave consequences, especially with younger users of your platform who are particularly vulnerable as targets of hate, being influenced by hate speech, and for being recruited by hate groups, are far too high. Failure to act is not an option. We hope your platform fully grasps the depth of the problems ISD has identified and acts accordingly on behalf of the public’s best interest, and we appeal to the conscience of every individual in a position of leadership at TikTok to take meaningful action now to make the platform safe for all of its users
American Jewish Congress
Broward for Progress
Friends of the Earth
Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
Indivisible Northern Nevada
Media Matters for America
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Equality Action Team (NEAT)
National Hispanic Media Coalition
Southern Poverty Law Center