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ByteDance censored anti-China content in Indonesian news app

ByteDance censored anti-China content in Indonesian news app


The tech giant bought BaBe in 2018

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Digital Media Company ByteDance
Photo by Yan Guolin/VCG via Getty Images

Chinese tech company ByteDance censored media criticizing the Chinese government on news aggregation apps in Indonesia up until the middle of 2020, Reuters reported Thursday.

In 2018, ByteDance purchased the Indonesian news aggregation app Baca Berita (BaBe) after the country briefly banned the tech giant’s video-sharing platform TikTok. Shortly after ByteDance’s acquisition of BaBe, moderators for the app were instructed to take down content critical of the Chinese government. News that referenced the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 or Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China, was removed from the app, according to Reuters.

“In our early days, before we were able to take the more localised approach that we use today, BaBe had some moderation practices in place that were not consistent with our philosophy of having the Indonesian team deciding what is appropriate for its market,” a BaBe spokesperson told The Verge Thursday. “These guidelines were replaced in 2019 and we’ve since built and empowered local moderation teams to make decisions that suit the local market.”

While the Reuters report only references anti-China content censorship on ByteDance’s news app, TikTok has come under fire in recent months for allegedly removing videos that disparage the Chinese government, too. In 2019, The Guardian reported that TikTok moderators were told to censor content that mentions Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and other similar videos. 

Responding to reports, TikTok said at the time that its “content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government.” A spokesperson continued, “The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there.”

Still, TikTok’s statements didn’t assuage concerns from lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) that the increasingly popular social media platform didn’t censor content criticizing China. Rubio penned a letter to the Committee on Foreign Investment requesting that it launch an investigation into the potential national security risks posed by the app in the US. 

Tensions escalated earlier this month when President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all transactions with ByteDance to “address the national emergency with respect to the information and communication technology supply chain.” The order is expected to go into effect on September 20th.

Updated 8/13/20 at 1:32 PM ET: Added a statement from BaBe.