According to BuzzFeed News, former employees claimed that ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok in China, placed pro-Chinese content in its now-defunct news app. The site also mentions censorship over negative stories about the Chinese government.
ByteDance reportedly ordered its employees to pin content that showed China at its best on TopBuzz, the app in question. In fact, they claim they even had to provide evidence like screenshots of the live content to show that they had indeed followed orders. According to Engadget, TopBuzz managed to reach 40 million monthly active users in 2018.
The contents that ByteDance pushed on TopBuzz
The promoted content was actually panda videos and China travel endorsement videos. One of the former staff recalled pinning a video of a man touting the benefits of doing business, such as starting or moving his startup to China.
In addition to the content TopBuzz promoted, former employees also reported that the app had a review system at its disposal that flagged Chinese government reports for removal. This included: coverage of the Hong Kong protests, articles that mentioned President Xi Jinping or those that referenced Winnie the Pooh, the cartoon character that is used to poke fun at the Chinese President. According to some employees, content openly depicting LGBTQ+ people was also subject to censorship.
Do these actions influence TikTok?
Although TopBuzz was closed in June 2020, TikTok is there more than ever, it is the reference social network these days. In view of the events, fears remain on the fact that ByteDance would act in the same way, that is to say, broadcast pro-Chinese messages in the United States. Not to mention that according to a BuzzFeed News report in June, ByteDance employees in China got their hands on private classified information from TikTok users in the United States.
However, ByteDance denies the claims of former employees who testified to BuzzFeed News. A company spokesperson even called the claims false and ridiculous. He added in a statement to BuzzFeed News that TopBuzz had more than two dozen leading US and UK media publishing partners at the time, including BuzzFeed, ” who clearly found nothing of concern when performing the due diligence “.