TikTok admits secretly banning the word "gay" and similar terms in Russia, elsewhere

TikTok admitted today that it has banned certain phrases from being used by users in regions that include Russia, Bosnia and Jordan, with "gay", "I am gay" and "transgender" named as examples by the BBC. The firm says it will continue to restrict the terms and related hashtags to "comply with local laws" and to prevent their use "to discover pornographic content."

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think-tank said many LGBT hashtags were "shadow-banned" in Bosnia, Jordan and Russia.A shadow ban limits the discovery of content without indicating that a particular hashtag is on a ban list. … TikTok said that while some terms were restricted to comply with local laws, others were limited because they were primarily used to discover pornographic content.

The ban was incompetently implemented, resulting in Tik Tok suffering from the Scunthorpe Problem, which appears to have played a role in exposing the policy.

An important thing to note is that this is only vicariously a form of censorship. It is a content policy, embraced willingly (if covertly) by TikTok so that it can profit in markets it has no obligation to enter in the first place.

The traditional techie argument for such policies is that you can't possibly expect businesses to forgo operations in totalitarian or oppressive regimes, that their need to do so trumps any ethical or human rights concerns, and that complaining about it makes you naive and childish. (Tik Tok is based in such a regime, at least for now.)

But a level of flagrant bigotry, beyond the needs of capital or authoritarian regimes, is something Tik Tok has long specialized in. Last year, it admitted limiting material posted by people who were disabled, disfigured, autistic or simply "ugly". Tik Tok's contempt for minorities and the marginalized is corporate culture, not merely an act of compliance.