WeChat and TikTok have begun some forms of censorship of content in the U.S. as well as around the world. As reported by Bloomberg the companies have taken practices used in China and brought them to the rest of the world.
Given the context of Trump's ban on WeChat and TikTok, this move could give his administration even more ammunition to attack these companies. It is worth noting that the type of censorship we are talking about his is very different to the moves Facebook and others have taken to ban hate speech.
This much more political in nature. WeChat and TikTok often bury or hide certain words. These are words that reflect political movements, gender and sexual orientation or religion.
Australian report finds WeChat and TikTok political censorship
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that most of the content censored on WeChat supported pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. It also censored messages from the U.S. and U.K. embassies regarding a new national security law.
Since its roots as lip-syncing based platform TikTok has become a place or political protest. It has often been used to protest issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
One of the authors said that hashtags related to LGBTQ+ issues have also been censored in several languages. Other topics include criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This sort of censorship in the U.S. and around the world by WeChat and TikTok is potentially very worrying. Washington has accused services like TikTok of blocking content considered sensitive to the Communist Party.
WeChat generally admits that it complies with controls back in China. Whilst TikTok has often pushed back against claims that the Chinese government influences the company. This is because TikTok mainly operates outside of China.
The report says that the above hashtags are categorized in the same way as "terrorist groups, illicit substances and swear words". This means they are treated in the same way as these sorts of ideas.
TikTok respond to censorship accusations
TikTok claims it censors certain terms and phrases because of "relevant local laws". The company also claimed that it “strongly supports our LGBTQ creators around the world".
TikTok went onto reiterate that its "user data is stored in the U.S. and Singapore, with strict controls on employee access". The company was categoric that it had never "shared user information with the Chinese government".
With bans on TikTok and WeChat to take effect in mid-September further claims of censorship is the last thing this story needs. How these tensions develop has been fascinating to observe and will no doubt continue to twist and turn as the months' progress.