Former Chinese government official was in charge of TikTok’s content moderation policies, report says


Top line

A former Chinese government official was responsible for making decisions about what content to allow on TikTok, the Financial Time reported in a development that raises questions about the company’s previous claim that the Chinese government had no influence over its operations.


Cai Zheng, who worked at the Chinese Embassy in Tehran from 2013 to 2018, led the Global Content Policy team at ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, until early this year, when the company has moved to allow local operations in its larger countries to remove content. decisions themselves.

According to a now modified LinkedIn profile, Cai joined ByteDance in 2018, when the company was under surveillance of the Chinese government on the content shared on the news aggregation application of the company Jinri Toutiao.

Cai worked with ByteDance’s global trust and security team in Beijing to formulate guidelines on acceptable content on TikTok and the company’s other international applications, including Helo and Vigo Video, according to the FT report.

During Cai’s stint, TikTok was accused of removing videos critical of the Chinese government, including prohibition an American teenager who used makeup tutorials to educate viewers about the massive imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

The Trump administration has called TikTok a security threat, repeatedly accusing the app of being influenced by the Chinese government, an allegation that TikTok and ByteDance have denied.

Crucial quote

TikTok said Forbes that “Cai Zheng was not involved in the development of TikTok’s early content policies, which preceded him,” but that Zheng worked with regional teams to localize these existing policies. In the United States, the TikTok team in California had “taken charge of policy development” a few months after the app launched in the country.

Key context

Following the threat of a ban in the United States, last month TikTok announced that Oracle and Walmart have agreed to acquire a 20% stake in TikTok’s global operations in a fundraising round. pre-IPO. As part of the deal, Oracle agreed to acquire 12.5% ​​of the video-sharing platform, while Walmart agreed to own a 7.5% stake. That deal, which initially had Trump’s “blessing”, was put in jeopardy after ByteDance claimed it would still retain control of TikTok while Oracle and Walmart serve as minority partners. Trump and Oracle then objected to the claim, with the president saying he would only authorize the deal if TikTok’s operations were “totally controlled” by a US entity like Oracle. Since then, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said TikTok must meet all U.S. security requirements in any deal it makes with Oracle – which will include code storage in the United States – or it will be forced to shut down. The Trump administration had ordered the app’s removal from smartphone app stores, but the decision was stayed by a judge, who ruled in favor of TikTok, saying Trump’s TikTok ban likely overrode it. legal authority.

Further reading

Former Chinese government official led TikTok’s content policy as app went global (Financial Times)


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