TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2023 in Washington, DC.
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To spot and remove offensive posts, TikTok has tens of thousands of workers, who are led by a group in Ireland, tasked with content moderation, CEO Shou Zi Chew said on Thursday.
Speaking at the TED2023 Possibility conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Chew said TikTok has “clear community guidelines” and that executives do not “make any ad-hoc decisions” when dealing with “bad actors” on the internet who post offensive content on the app.
“Based on that, we have built a team that is tens of thousands of people plus machines in order to identify content that is bad, and actively, proactively remove it from the platform,” Chew said.
While Chew made it sound as if the employees were located in Ireland, a spokesperson said after initial publication of this story that “the group is based in Ireland” with “tens of thousands of moderators around the world.”
TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, is under intense pressure from U.S. lawmakers who want to ban the app over concerns it poses a threat to national security. Chew’s comments come weeks after the CEO withstood a barrage of tough questioning from U.S. legislators, who have also criticized TikTok for failing to prevent the spread of offensive content on its platform or address its contribution to a rise in teenage depression.
“As a company, our goal is not to optimize and maximize time spent,” Chew said on Thursday, adding that when people are glued to their smartphone screens TikTok “will proactively send you videos to tell you to get off the platform.”
The harmful content problem is not unique to TikTok. U.S. rivals, including Meta, parent of Facebook and Instagram, and Google’s YouTube, have faced similar questions from lawmakers.
Chew said TikTok takes the matter seriously.
“We really encourage parents to have these conversations with their teenagers of what is the right amount of screen time,” Chew said. “I think there’s a healthy relationship that you should have with your screen and, as a business, you know, we believe that that balance needs to be met.”
Chew also brought up TikTok’s Project Texas initiative, which is at the heart of the company’s effort to reassure the public that the data of U.S. users will remain on domestic soil and won’t fall into the hands of foreign governments, most notably China.
Although TikTok is partnering with Silicon Valley software vendor Oracle to store and protect user data, U.S. lawmakers remain concerned that Beijing could snoop on U.S. citizens or potentially spread propaganda via the TikTok app.
“I can say that we are building all the tools to prevent any of these actions from happening,” Chew said. “And I’m very confident that with an unprecedented amount of transparency that we’re giving on the platform, we can reduce this risk to as low as zero as possible.”
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