TikTok is spreading violent homophobic and transphobic content, report finds

Maggie Baska May 22, 2021
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In this photo illustration the TikTok logo in App Store seen displayed on a smartphone screen. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Video-sharing social networking app TikTok’s algorithm is spreading anti-LGBT+ content, according to an analysis by watchdog Media Matters.

The report, published on Tuesday (18 May), found TikTok’s recommendation algorithm – which determines the videos that appear on a user’s page – is promoting content that encourages violence against the LGBT+ community.

According to the TikTok website, the ‘For You’ feed reflects the “preferences unique to each user”. As such, the recommendation system will suggest content based on several factors including what videos a person likes or shares, accounts followed, comments, information in the videos and account settings.

But Media Matters found that liking even one anti-LGBT+ video can lead to a barrage of other homophobic content being added to an user’s ‘For You’ page. The watchdog tested this by clicking “like” on one anti-LGBT+ video. It said TikTok “almost instantly began recommending more”.

The report added: “As we liked similar videos, the ‘For You’ page became progressively tailored to almost exclusively anti-LGBTQ content. In each case, this content was placed on the ‘For You’ page and required no additional searching.”

Media Matters said the videos which TikTok recommended encouraged violence against LGBT+ people, celebrated homophobia and even encouraged destroying the Pride flag.

In one video recommended to Media Matters, a TikTok user encouraged physical violence against trans masculine people. The video featured two animated people fighting with the caption: “Me when I see a Lgbtq Transboy.” One person commented on the video that it was “top tier content” while another said they “did that to someone” in real life.

Media Matters said it also was recommended several videos which encouraged users to burn the LGBT+ Pride flag. The watchdog said many of the videos had “tens of thousands of likes”.

A spokesperson for TikTok told PinkNews: “TikTok is committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, and we work to create a welcoming community environment by removing anti-LGBTQ+ videos and accounts that attempt to spread hateful ideas on our platform.”

TikTok does remove accounts and videos that violate its community guidelines against hateful behaviour. This includes any content that “attacks, threatens, incites violence against or otherwise dehumanises an individual or a group” on the basis of protected attributes including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

TikTok has confirmed that it has removed the content cited in the Media Matters’ report for violating its community guidelines against such behaviour.

This isn’t the first time that TikTok has come under fire for promoting controversial content. The app has a pervasive “super straight” community that claims that refusing to date trans people is a sexual orientation. The rancorous term has also spread to other social media platforms.

LGBT+ media advocacy organisation GLAAD recently released a report which found TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are all “categorically unsafe” for LGBT+ people. GLAAD found every single platform is failing to protect LGBT+ users from being harassed and threatened online, and it warned that this was bleeding into the real world.

Sarah Kate Ellie, GLAAD president and CEO, said in an interview with Axios on HBO that there are “real world consequences to what happens online”. She argued there are “direct lines you can draw” between the multitude of anti-trans bills that are “now circulating at the state [level] and what’s being produced and pushed out within the social media world”.

“I think that there are direct lines to, unfortunately, suicides of our community,” Ellis said.

This article has been updated to reflect that TikTok has removed the content cited in the Media Matters’ report for violating the social media platform’s community guidelines against hateful behaviour. 

Related topics: Homophobia, tiktok, transphobia

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