TikTok is changing its definition of hate speech to include deadnaming and misgendering, part of an overhaul of the video app's community guidelines aimed at rooting out transphobic and other harmful behavior.
The ByteDance-owned short video-sharing platform also tightened its rules to bar videos that promote conversion therapy - attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity - as well as eating disorders and dangerous trends such as "suicide hoaxes".
"Though these ideologies have long been prohibited on TikTok, we've heard from creators and civil society organizations that it's important to be explicit in our community guidelines," Cormac Keenan, TikTok's head of trust and safety, said in a blog post.
The updated guidelines now prohibit content that specifically targets transgender or nonbinary people by referring to them in ways that do not align with their gender identity, he said.
TikTok's explosive growth has made it a vital platform for teens and young people, putting its guidelines under increasing scrutiny. Its success also has forced rivals to scramble to keep up.
After posting disappointing earnings last week, Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to focus more on Reels, the company's short-form video feature that resembles TikTok. The company has struggled to attract and maintain younger users on its flagship Facebook service.
TikTok recently made it easier for people to include their pronouns in their user bios, following in the footsteps of Instagram and Facebook. With the deadnaming change, videos that refer to transgender people by their names assigned at birth would be considered hate-speech violations.
At the same time, the company aims to protect the content of marginalised groups who are reappropriating terms - say, a racial slur - that would typically be used to disparage them, or who are using hate speech for the purpose of education.
Of the 91.4 million videos TikTok said it removed from the platform due to violations between June and September 2021, 1.5 per cent were classified as hateful content and 5.4 per cent were removed for bullying and harassment. It is not yet clear how the updated rules would change the number of violations.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sarah Kate Ellis, head of the advocacy group GLAAD, applauded the change, saying on Twitter that it "raises the standard for LGBTQ safety online and sends a message that other platforms which claim to prioritize LGBTQ safety should follow suit with substantive actions like these".
The organization had criticized TikTok in a May 2021 report for incorrectly blocking LGBTQ videos and allegedly shadowbanning some content - downplaying the material so fewer people see it.
Affirming transgender and nonbinary youth by using their names and pronouns respectfully can positively affect their mental health, according to a 2021 survey from the Trevor Project, a LGBTQ suicide-prevention organisation.
Twenty-four per cent of transgender and nonbinary respondents who suffered discrimination on the basis of their gender identity said they had attempted suicide in the past year, double the rate of those who had not. And while 71 per cent of transgender and nonbinary youth said they found gender-affirming spaces online, LGBTQ youth said social media has both positively and negatively affected their well-being.
"It is extremely important for LGBTQ young people to have access to affirming spaces - which can often be online communities within platforms like TikTok - where they are loved and respected for who they are," said Josh Weaver, vice-president of marketing at the Trevor Project. He called the platform's update "a step in the right direction" and agreed with Ellis that other platforms should make similar moves.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also urged tech platforms to make changes in a December 2021 report regarding young people's mental health.
"Senior technology executives should acknowledge that their products can harm some young people and take material and measurable steps to prevent and mitigate these harms, even at the expense of engagement, scale and profit," he wrote. "Leaders should be accountable for creating a safe, accessible and inclusive digital environment for their users and designing safe products."
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