A former Chinese language authorities official in his late twenties was in command of deciding what content material ought to be allowed on TikTok because the short-video app grew to become a smash hit around the globe, in accordance with two folks near the corporate.
Cai Zheng, who labored in China’s embassy in Tehran for 4 years in accordance with a now deleted LinkedIn profile, ran ByteDance’s world content material coverage workforce in Beijing till early this 12 months, when the corporate accelerated a transfer to let its largest markets make their very own selections about what movies ought to be eliminated.
The revelation that Mr Cai was on the coronary heart of TikTok’s policymaking workforce raises questions on repeated denials from ByteDance, the app’s Beijing-based proprietor, that the Chinese language authorities has any affect over TikTok’s operations.
TikTok has been painted as a safety menace to the US by Donald Trump and the app is attempting to restructure its possession and operations in partnership with Oracle and Walmart to keep away from a complete ban. It has been banned in India, beforehand its largest market by variety of customers.
Mr Cai joined ByteDance in 2018, at a time when the corporate was underneath intense scrutiny by Beijing for the movies it was working on TikTok’s Chinese language sister app, Douyin, amongst different points. The stress compelled chief government Zhang Yiming to difficulty an apology and to tack nearer to the federal government line.
The previous diplomat sat inside ByteDance’s world belief and security workforce in Beijing and wrote pointers for what movies had been acceptable on TikTok and different worldwide apps together with Helo and Vigo Video.
In keeping with the folks near the corporate, Mr Cai was removed from being a Communist Get together ideologue, however his background and coaching might have influenced how he, and a workforce of younger principally Chinese language coverage analysts, applied a method to maintain controversial content material off the short-video app.
Throughout his stint, TikTok was accused of suppressing movies that upset Beijing’s sensitivities, together with one by a teenage American lady which sought to boost consciousness of the mass imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang area. TikTok has denied suppressing politically delicate movies and mentioned the video was eliminated in error.
Final September, paperwork leaked to the Guardian newspaper, and confirmed as genuine by the folks near the corporate, prompt that TikTok banned movies about Tibetan and Taiwanese independence, the Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath, and the Falun Gong motion.
TikTok mentioned these insurance policies had been outdated and the paperwork had been labelled as historic, though one particular person mentioned content material moderators nonetheless had entry to them on the time of the leak.
“Cai Zheng was not concerned in creating the insurance policies [ . . .] as these insurance policies predated him,” mentioned a TikTok spokesperson. “He labored with our rising regional and native groups on localisation of our early content material insurance policies.”
Mr Cai couldn’t be reached for remark.
TikTok has now devolved accountability for forming content material coverage and moderating movies to Los Angeles, in addition to three hubs in Dublin, Singapore and Silicon Valley. The heads of those hubs report back to a worldwide head of belief and security in Beijing, a Chinese language lady identified inside ByteDance by the pseudonym Yuyi F, with few folks on the firm conscious of her actual identify, the folks mentioned.
Mr Cai transferred from the content material coverage position in early January, mentioned two folks, and his position has not since been crammed.
ByteDance mentioned: “It was not a consideration in hiring Zheng that his earlier position was within the public sector, and there have been no conversations with the federal government within the hiring course of. As TikTok continued to construct out its world security groups in regional hubs, Zheng determined to maneuver to ByteDance’s gaming workforce.”
Though content material coverage and moderation is now run domestically, folks near the state of affairs mentioned engineers constructing options comparable to hashtags, or writing the algorithms that choose which movies are proven to customers are largely primarily based in Beijing and Shanghai, although there at the moment are growing numbers on the US West Coast, Singapore and Dublin.
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One of many folks famous that US TikTok workers engaged on moderating political content material across the US election would want to ask colleagues in China to assist them construct merchandise to observe such movies.
TikTok mentioned it has not seen widespread proof of individuals utilizing the platform to submit malicious movies across the US presidential election.
“Now we have and proceed to take down inauthentic accounts for suspicious behaviour comparable to spam, however comparatively few of those inauthentic account removals have a direct tie to any particular subject, together with the election. The lead for the TikTok algorithm relies in Mountain View,” mentioned a spokesperson.
The spokesperson added that ByteDance now has “a whole lot of engineers” in Silicon Valley to scale up the platform, that TikTok’s chief safety officer relies within the US, and that since earlier this 12 months, all belief and security groups, together with Yuyi, now report back to “world management primarily based within the US”.
Beneath stress, ByteDance has pushed to maneuver management of content material coverage and moderation out of China
ByteDance merges TikTok with Musical.ly
Cai Zheng joins ByteDance from China’s overseas ministry, shortly turns into the top of TikTok content material coverage.
TikTok begins to devolve full management of content material coverage for US market with a workforce being inbuilt Los Angeles and in September hires first US content material coverage analyst who doesn’t report back to Mr Cai.
Damaging leak to the Guardian leads firm to double down on localisation technique for content material coverage and content material moderation in all areas.
November 2019 — January 2020
TikTok hires belief and security heads for regional hubs in Silicon Valley, Dublin and Singapore who report back to Yuyi F, head of world belief and security in Beijing.
Cai Zheng transfers out of his position as head of world content material coverage.
TikTok names professors and consultants who will type a US-focused content material advisory council to advise the corporate on content material moderation.
TikTok has 689m world energetic customers and about 90m month-to-month energetic customers within the US.