In a massive reveal, Thompson Reuters reports that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance heavily censored content in Indonesia on its news aggregator app, which was deemed sensitive or critical to the Chinese government.
As per the report, the Chinese tech-giant kept editing content – with standard comparable to a similar Chinese news app – that was perceived as ‘anti-China’ since 2018, until mid-2020, people with direct knowledge on the matter told Reuters.
ByteDance team from Beijing reportedly ordered the Baca Berita (BaBe) app team in Indonesia to ‘delete’ content seen as ‘negative’ to the Chinese authorities in the news aggregator platform.
The Babe app moderators were told from ByteDance headquarters to not publish articles on the widely covered TikTok ban and negotiation with the Indonesian government were underway, two of the six sources told news agency Reuters.
Also, articles on Indonesia-China tensions over the South China sea were ordered to be taken down, the direct sources told the news agency.
This revelation comes amid growing scrutiny on China and its tech giants operating from its soil after a series of dissent from different countries on the beyond-normal involvement of the Chinese government on its global companies.
On paper, the revelation adds to the credibility of the US and global claim over ByteDance, or Chinese tech firms at large, that they pose a threat to security with too much government involvement.
TikTok, one of ByteDance’s most famous products has steadily refuted any such claims over the app’s involvement with the Chinese government.
The US, India, UK, Australia previously has alleged Chinese internet companies of posing an international security risk and a potential breach of private data of the users.
However, the Indonesian app in question has disagreed with the claims in a statement to Reuters and has maintained they moderate the app content on the basis of Indonesian laws.
BaBe in a statement to Reuters said initially they did not have a policy that would allow local moderators in Indonesia to censor content in the app.
But starting from 2019, they have “empowered local moderation teams to make decisions that suit the local market.” However, when questioned which month the policies changed, no immediate response came from BaBe.
“If ByteDance will censor BaBe in Indonesia, what’s to stop it from censoring TikTok in the United States?” American Republican Senator Josh Hawley told the news agency in a comment.
“We shouldn’t trust any assurances they make. This is another reason TikTok as it currently exists should be banned in the United States.”
Trump has already threatened ByteDance to shut down TikTok over security concerns in the US unless it is sold to an American company.
The US also lauded India’s recent sweeping ban on dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, over the same security concerns.
A senior official from trump’s office maintained that: “Entities such as ByteDance ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Party” and have been historically censoring free-speech for political propaganda.