TikTok reportedly take 3 hours to call police after a teen’s death livestreamed
A report from The Intercept has revealed that a 19-year-old in Brazil livestreamed his death on the video-sharing platform nearly a year ago. When TikTok officials were alerted to the livestream, they reportedly waited to inform the police until after they took steps to ensure the story of the apparent suicide didn’t spread or go viral.
TikTok’s steps in the face of this incident shine further light on a popular, yet relatively new, platform whose behind-the-scenes workings are still a relative mystery to the public. TikTok has stressed the image that its platform is a place solely for viral hilarity and widespread memes, but the company’s handling of the death on its platform shows that it has to answer to the same questions as other social media sites when it comes to content moderation.
The Intercept reports that the Brazilian teen’s livestream video remained up on TikTok for more than an hour and a half, and received nearly 500 comments and 15 complaints, before it was taken down from the platform. Once people in TikTok’s Brazil office became aware of the death, they took steps to mitigate fallout for hours before contacting local authorities.
TikTok officials first embarked on a public relations strategy, according to The Intercept. The platform reportedly took steps to ensure news of the apparent suicide didn’t go viral and get picked up in the media, and closely monitored social media platforms to watch whether news of the livestreamed death was posted anywhere. The company also reportedly prepared a press statement, which it never released, that said TikTok policies don’t allow for “content that promotes personal injury or suicide.”
It wasn’t until later that night – nearly three hours after TikTok learned about the livestream, and more than four hours after the death – that TikTok contacted police in Brazil, The Intercept reported.
TikTok told Business Insider there was a “breakdown” in the process in which the company dealt with this video. As a result, TikTok said it’s taken “disciplinary action” against certain employees, and have made changes to its review process, although the company declined to go into more detail about those changes.
Aside from TikTok’s crisis management efforts, the report raises questions about how the platform’s content moderation system in place that was unable to identify, or take action, on an apparent livestreamed suicide. The group responsible for moderating TikTok content – reportedly referred to as its “technical team” – was only made aware of the death after Brazilian influencers on TikTok notified employees about the livestream.
However, this inadequacy in dealing with suicides and other violent content isn’t an issue limited to TikTok. Facebook and YouTube are just two of a number of social platforms who have drawn criticism for their failure to remove graphic and violent content from their sites, despite having policies in place that explicitly ban such content.
TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity since it debuted worldwide in 2018, and has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times. The platform, particularly popular among teens, counts Brazil as one of its biggest markets.
This also isn’t the first video of a death to have surfaced on TikTok: At least two deaths, including one suicide, have occurred in India while users were filming videos for the platform.
In the US, TikTok’s burgeoning popularity has also raised questions regarding its ties to China, given that the platform’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. This connection has been met with scrutiny, by people as far up as US government officials, over how much access and influence the Chinese government has to TikTok’s user data and content moderation.
TikTok has also faced allegations that it censors “culturally problematic” and political content that could be seen as offensive to the Chinese government, according to former employees’ reports to The Washington Post and documents obtained by The Guardian and the German blog Netzpolitik. When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong earlier this year, TikTok was curiously devoid of any hints of unrest, and videos instead documented a prettier picture.