Tiktok's internal policies are both weird and terrible

Tiktok bills itself as apolitical, despite the fact that is both a de facto arm of Chinese political propaganda (and, weirdly, for Uyghur human rights activists).

Tiktok's internal moderation policies are an unknowable mess (as you'd expect from any for-profit entity that hopes to establish physical sales offices in authoritarian states around the world and doesn't want their in-country execs to be marched off to jail at gunpoint). Leaks have shown how the guidelines in China are used to suppress political dissidence, and also how the company has weird and nonsensical definitions of the sexual exploitation of children, and how the company avoids controversy by banning criticism of world leaders, or mentions of sectarian or religious conflicts.

But fresh leaks reveal that Tiktok's national guidelines outside of China are also bizarre and terrible: in Turkey, the company banned LGBT-related content, as well as cleavage, discussions of sanitary pads, and (naturally) pro-Kurdish material — as well as criticism of the ruling party, depictions of alcohol, or non-Islamic religious content.

Contradictory, secretive, overbroad moderation rules are par for the course in the online world — Tiktok's rules are different, but not necessarily worse, than the rules used by Facebook or Apple.

However, Tiktok is different from most other services in one respect: it is atemporal. Posts do not have timestamps, and it's nearly impossible to figure out how old a post is. On the plus side, this means that older, dormant posts can go suddenly viral (Tiktok is also unique in that its recommendation algorithms can elevate material posted from accounts with very few followers, making overnight sensations out of obscure users.

On the minus side, it makes it very hard to adjudicate plagiarism accusations, or to ascertain the currency or validity of claims made in videos.

This is also an issue with Tumblr, where, similarly, the lack of timestamps creates a kind of information vacuum that removes currency as a factor for determining how to apportion your attention. But unlike Tumblr, the Tiktok app actually blocks your phone's time readout, making it that much harder to determine how much time has passed during your Tiktok click-trance.

There's some evidence that TikTok is coming around to the idea of the Gregorian calendar, or at least testing the potential impact of introducing more time indicators might have. "There have been timestamps showing up randomly but inconsistently lately, like they're experimenting with a rollout," says Renee. A spokesperson for TikTok declined to comment on the record about any specific product changes or tests.

Other social platforms have found success in de-emphasizing time metrics too, although not abandoning them entirely. To the annoyance of many users, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have all implemented algorithmic timelines in recent years, and no longer display posts in reverse chronological order by default. With so much content out there, platforms need to factor in more than just recency when deciding what to feed you and when. By relying on machine learning algorithms, these companies also take into consideration your preferences and past behavior.

TikTok has taken that strategy to its logical extreme, which helps to explain not only its success but also some of its problems. The platform ultimately hopes that you not only stop caring about when a video was posted, but perhaps forget what day it is entirely while scrolling through them.

On TikTok, There Is No Time [Louise Matsakis/Wired]

TikTok's local moderation guidelines ban pro-LGBT content [Alex Hern/The Guardian]

(via Techdirt)