Former ByteDance Employees Claim TikTok Parent Company Pushed Pro-China Messages Through Its News App: Report

Photo taken on October 17, 2021 shows the tiktok booth at Hangzhou International E-Commerce Expo 2021 in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province.  On May 8, 2022, various domestic media of Hong Kong business registration websites found that beat bytes (Hong Kong) co., LTD.  It was renamed tiktok group (Hong Kong) co., LTD., the effective date is May 6, 2022.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has denied allegations made in a BuzzFeed report that cited former employees as saying it pushed pro-China narratives through a defunct news app.CFOTO/Future Publication via Getty Images

  • Former ByteDance employees say the company pushed pro-China narratives on its app, BuzzFeed reported.

  • They said they were told to pin pro-China content on the defunct news app TopBuzz.

  • Other former employees also said the company flagged Chinese government coverage for removal.

Former employees who worked at ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, alleged that the company used a defunct news app to amplify pro-China messages and censor criticism of the Chinese government, BuzzFeed reported on Tuesday.

If true, the allegations could pose difficult questions for TikTok, which has tried to distance itself from its China-based parent amid scrutiny by US officials over whether the app could be used to manipulate speech or spy on Americans.

BuzzFeed cited four anonymous former ByteDance employees who said the company had instructed its team working on the TopBuzz app to promote content that painted China favorably. This includes videos of pandas traveling through China and a video of a white man extolling the benefits of moving his startup to China, they said.

The four former employees also told BuzzFeed that they were instructed to take screenshots of what aired on TopBuzz after they pinned pro-China content to the top of the app.

BuzzFeed reported that ByteDance denied the allegations.

A spokesperson for the company told the channel: β€œThe claim that TopBuzz – which was discontinued years ago – pinned pro-Chinese government content to the top of the app or worked to promote it is false and ridiculous. media publishing partners in the US and UK, including BuzzFeed, who clearly found nothing of concern when carrying out due diligence.”

TopBuzz, launched by ByteDance in 2015, was designed to use artificial intelligence to aggregate news for users, but closed in June 2020.

One of the former employees told BuzzFeed that the material they were asked to promote was “soft” content, which may not be the political message Washington fears.

BuzzFeed interviewed former ByteDance employees who spoke about censorship efforts on TopBuzz. They described a content review system that would flag Chinese government coverage in the same way that nudity and hate speech were identified by the app for removal.

Former employees said some of the content flagged for removal includes coverage of the Hong Kong protests, content about the LGBTQ+ community, and articles referencing Winnie the Pooh β€” the cartoon character who drew the ire of President Xi Jinping because of memes comparing him to the teddy bear.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Over the past year, ByteDance and TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government have come under regular scrutiny.

ByteDance tried to distinguish TikTok from other affiliates of the company and separate it from Chinese products. However, TikTok employees told Insider’s Dan Whateley last year that those working on the app still need to pass decisions and major discussions at ByteDance’s Beijing headquarters.

China’s government has also created a robust network of social influencers on Western platforms that promote pro-China agendas, the Associated Press reported in March.

According to the outlet, the Chinese Communist Party has benefited from a bevy of state and Western paid reporters on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, who promote Beijing’s perspective on controversial global issues.

According to Miburo, a cyber threat analysis and research firm, the Chinese government has connections to over 200 influencers operating in up to 40 languages.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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