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According to a report published by BuzzFeed News, TikTok parent company ByteDance pushed pro-China messages in its now-defunct English-language news app, TopBuzz. Former employees of the news aggregator app told the publication that ByteDance instructed members of its staff to “pin” specific pieces of pro-China messages to the top of the app.
However, most of the messaging were not overtly political. The pro-China messages often included panda videos and videos that promote China’s tourism. Pinning videos showing a white man talking about the benefits of moving his startup to China was one of the ways to show China in a positive light.
TikTok’s parent company also instructed its members of its staff to show evidence that the content had indeed been placed on top of the app. Employees were required to take screenshots of live content in TopBuzz and send them back to ByteDance. One of the former employees said, “Let’s be real, this was not something you could say no to. If they don’t do it, somebody’s going to jail.”
Some of the former employees also claimed that a content review system of the news aggregator app would flag reporting on the Chinese government, nudity, hate speech, and other content for removal from the app. For instance, coverage of the Hong Kong protests and open depiction of LGBTQ+ people were removed from the app.
In 2018, TopBuzz had 40 million daily active users, but it shut shop in June 2020.
Responding to the former employees’ claims about putting China in a positive light, a ByteDance spokesperson told BuzzFeed the following:
The 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. TopBuzz had over two dozen top tier US and UK media publishing partners, including BuzzFeed, which clearly did not find anything of concern when performing due diligence.
However, ByteDance did not respond to claims about the alleged censorship.