TikTok, Douyin, and the “dystopian censorship machine”

The Telegraph received leaked documents about the “dystopian censorship machine” that is Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

Laurence Dodds explains:

One system can use facial recognition to scan live streamers‘ broadcasts and guess their age, reporting them to a human moderator if they appear under 16.

Another checks whether users‘ faces match their state ID cards before letting them stream, automatically excluding foreigners and people from Hong Kong.

Another system assigns streamers, who are expected to uphold “public order and good customs“, a “safety rating“, similar to a “credit score”. If the score dips below a certain level, they are punished automatically.

That’s quite the surveillance system, if it works as described. It’s not hard to imagine how suppressive it could be and how well it’d create cultural hegemony. That’s especially important, given that the platform has an overwhelmingly young audience.

The article goes onto to mention how a live stream was shut down because a British man appeared on camera for a few minutes. “Foreigners without government ‘permission’” aren’t allowed on the platform.

Dodds asked TikTok how much, if any, of this tech is part of their app. The company wouldn’t answer. They’ve been trying to seperate themselves from Douyin for a while now. Dodging these questions isn’t the way to do it.

Meanwhile, speech and text recognition is used to ferret out sins such as “feudal superstition“, defamation of the Communist Party and even ASMR, which is banned because it has become too “pornographic“.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.