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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A TikTok executive said at a U.K. parliamentary hearing this week that the video-sharing platform previously censored content that was critical of China, especially videos about Uighur Muslims being detained in Xinjiang.

What they're saying: "At that time we took a decision [...] to not allow conflict on the platform, and so there was some incidents where content was not allowed on the platform, specifically with regard to the Uighur situation," Elizabeth Kanter, the company's U.K. director of public policy, said.

Yes, but: TikTok says that's no longer the case. "If you ... search for the term 'Uighur' on the TikTok app, you can find plenty of content about the Uighurs. There's plenty of content that's critical of China," Kanter said of its currently library.

  • "We do not in any way, shape, or form censor content or moderate in a way that would be favorable to China. You are right to say that those were a couple of years ago the content moderation guidelines, but they're absolutely not our policy now," she said.
  • Kanter did not specify when the rule changed, stating it's been "at least over a year."

The latest: Kanter clarified that she misspoke in reference to Uighurs, noting: "During the course of [Thursday's] hearing, I made an incorrect statement in response to a specific line of questioning about an outdated content policy."

  • "TikTok has previously acknowledged that in our very early days, we took a blunt approach to moderating content that promoted conflict, but we've also said we recognised this was the wrong approach and eliminated it. However, we want to be absolutely clear that even in those early policies, there was never a policy around the Uighur community, which is where I misspoke."

Between the lines: The Trump administration has been seeking to force a sale of, or block, the Chinese-owned service, saying it was a national security threat. It also moved to effectively ban the service from operating in the U.S. as of Nov. 12, a move which was put on hold at the end of October.

  • TikTok has twice been spared a ban in the U.S., though the administration continues to fight in court to enforce restrictions on the company.

Our thought bubble: As Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimiam notes, this belated admission from Kanter isn't likely to build trust between TikTok and the Americans who use it.

Go deeper: The TikTok view from China

Editor's note: This story has been update with a clarified statement from Elizabeth Kanter.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech is outsourcing its hardest content moderation decisions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with the increasingly daunting task of consistent content moderation at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure they face for how they govern their platforms.

Why it matters: Every policy change, enforcement action or lack thereof prompts accusations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making politically motivated decisions to either be too lax or too harsh. Ceding responsibility to others outside the company may be the future of content moderation if it works.

Why migrants are fleeing their homes for the U.S.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios Photo: Herika Martinez /Getty Images 

Natural disasters in Central America, economic devastation, gang wars, political oppression, and a new administration are all driving the sharp rise in U.S.-Mexico border crossings — a budding crisis for President Biden.

Why it matters: Migration flows are complex and quickly politicized. Biden's policies are likely sending signals that are encouraging the surge — but that's only a small reason it's happening.

Cities' pandemic struggle to balance homelessness and public safety

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Addressing homelessness has taken on new urgency in cities across the country over the past year, as officials grapple with a growing unhoused population and the need to preserve public safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: It’s led to tension when cities move in to clear encampments — often for health and safety reasons — causing some to rethink the role of law enforcement when interacting with people experiencing homelessness.