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TikTok curbed reach for people with disabilities (netzpolitik.org)
142 points by imartin2k 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments





The “only visible in home country” clause does seem to support TikTok’s claim that they were doing it for the hidden users benefit. It’s hard to say whether or not the policy has a net positive or negative effect.

If you browse the recommended posts page on the app, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll see someone who falls under the named categories from the article (queer, fat, disabled). They’re almost always showered with support and positivity in the comment sections.


> The “only visible in home country” clause does seem to support TikTok’s claim that they were doing it for the hidden users benefit.

This is actually clever. It allows the person to use local laws and local policing and even local social constructs. It would actually work.

> For people with an actual or assumed disability, this means that instead of reaching a global audience of one billion, their videos reached a maximum of 5.5 million people.

This sentence is sad.


I've found the comments on TikTok quite positive in general. Especially with these "vulnerable" groups of people. I think it is due to the younger user base. It seems that people that have grown up with social media nearly their entire lives know how to be more polite, and just handle it better all around.

It feels like social media breeds you to know that anything you say or do can come back to you as a "viral" moment, whether it be on sites like Twitter or Reddit (r/IdiotsInCars has surged in popularity) or in real life since it's as hard as ever to separate your online presence from your regular life.

I've never met anyone in real life with Tourette's, just as characters in a TV show that's trying to be edgy.

But in browsing TikTok I've met several people with Tourette's and learned about their lives. The majority of them whistle and don't use many profanities and this was a revelation to me. Also a fair number of BBW women who are both sexy and hilarious. But what I haven't seen at all are overweight men come to think of it.

I think that if TikTok wants to protect those under 18 from bullying it's a less than perfect solution. Perhaps they should target the bullies for banning instead?

But for adults it's clearly discrimination and they should stop. Can you imagine TV never airing Jackie Gleason, Benny Hill or Chris Farrelly?


It's entirely possible you've met many and didn't notice. Tic's run the gamut. I've had several people in my social circles over the years that have Tourette's and their tics weren't very noticeable; simple things like neck stretches, or little sniffle noises, or circular eyerolls. All things you either wouldn't notice as being a tic, or happen so quickly that unless you're paying direct attention you'd miss them.

My first wife had mild Tourette's. In public she could hide it; in private it manifested itself in the form of twitching. The only time she uttered obscenities was when I did something stupid.

My wife utters obscenities when I do something stupid, but there is no Tourette's involved!

I met one person with Tourette's in College. He threw out profanities randomly throughout the course I was taking. The professor was black (and a super nice guy) so he got the brunt of the racial profanity but he understood the condition and took it in stride.

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/18/health/the-tics-of-touret...

There's a lot of undiagnosed Tourette's out there, probably because coprolalia (shouting curse words involuntarily) is the best-known symptom even though it's extremely rare even among people who have Tourette's:

> In his report, Dr. Samuel H. Zinner, a pediatrician at the University of Washington specializing in developmental and behavioral problems, points out that the syndrome "often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed."

> "Misconceptions about this tic disorder are customary," he adds, "with the syndrome often perceived as characterized by bizarre, fitful behaviors or comical outbursts of uncontrollable profanity."

> The fact is that "relatively few patients yell out obscenities," Dr. Zinner said, adding that "most patients are affected only mildly and usually escape notice," even by their doctors. Complicating the diagnostic puzzle is the ability of patients, consciously or otherwise, to suppress their tics when expressing them could be embarrassing, as would occur in visits to the doctor.

[snip]

> Dr. Zinner says the disorder is far more common than is generally recognized, even by the Tourette Syndrome Association, which estimates that 1 person in 2,000 is affected. Rather, recent studies suggest that the real number of those with chronic tics is more like 1 in 100, suggesting that 750,000 children in this country have Tourette's. The disorder affects four times as many boys as girls and often runs in families.

https://www.empr.com/home/tools/patient-fact-sheets/tourette...

> Although coprolalia affects fewer than 15% of people with Tourette syndrome, a common misconception is that all sufferers display this symptom.

As for hiding the disabled, there's clearly a spectrum. I agree that children have to be handled differently from adults, but I also think that older children have to be handled differently from younger ones, which is probably beyond what a platform can reasonably police. Reliably distinguishing over-18 from under-18 is hard enough.


> Also a fair number of BBW women who are both sexy and hilarious.

Were you convinced that "BBW" women couldn't be either before browsing TikTok?


I came across a few. One of whom pointed out that the profanity type is relatively rare. He just had what looked like a few tics.

Is this article pushing for getting quirky viral clips of folks with down syndrome etc pushed more broadly into the feed?

Tiktok is very viral oriented - and the net is not that friendly - I hope netzpolitik are willing to provide support for folks facing attack and/or ridicule as a result of going viral - not everyone is in a good place for that (even youtube stars going through crazy burnout / meltdown cycles).


> not everyone is in a good place for that (even youtube stars going through crazy burnout / meltdown cycles).

Then these platforms should actually punish the people attacking, not the victims. Why is it the victim's fault that people around them aren't mature enough to treat them like a human being? Why is it their fault that they're being attacked for being themselves? Why should they be the ones that are being punished for being different?

What TikTok is doing is literally victim-blaming, and it's not ok.


Not every child (of any type) is helped by a global audience.

So we are clear - these are for profit platforms exploiting / providing a free service depending on your perspective for content providers and users -> usually with the goal of marketing to them or otherwise monetizing them.

Now mix in folks with development disabilities and a history of exploitation / abuse in this area generally. That down kid gyrating so you can laugh and show your co-workers is not an adult making a fully informed decision.

What these for profit platforms are doing is in many cases literally exploitative -> with the rights to monetize the content held by the platform, so you can laugh in the morning - and it's not OK.


Who said this was limited to children, anyway? You have to be 13+ to join as per COPPA, and age is never a part of their own equation as to whether a user is vulnerable or not. Everyone in the article is over 18, so this is clearly being applied to adults.

In any case, none of what you said actually responds to my questions -- why are the victims the ones being punished here? What did they do to deserve being silenced other than being themselves?

Yes, what these platforms are doing is exploitative, and that's a real separate issue that needs to be solved. But the right solution isn't this victim-blaming discrimination.

It's far easier to argue that TikTok et al are exploitative, it's much harder to discuss the proper solution to the issue that the thread is talking about. Let's keep it to that.


Let's keep this very focused on this issue.

Someone with down syndrome at 13 or even 21 is in a different place than an adult without down.

We probably disagree somewhat on whether exposure to a global audience as a child is healthy, even if it is 99% supportive. I'd be curious how star wars kid, and other young stars are doing - kids / disabled are CONSTANTLY being exploited, particularly if there is a financial angle to it.

We ALREADY see this on youtube where streamers absolutely do crazy stuff with their kids for views.

I'm sure we'll have some funny down syndrome tiktok stars, most likely ones with support staff / agents etc able to keep a good pace of content coming.

I think we are in total agreement - folks making nasty comments should be consequenced. That's the easy part.

But I'll be curious what stories we hear in 5 - 10 years about whatever tiktok stars end up making it big by being themselves. Who gobbled up the money, how happy were they etc. I say this because fully mature adults struggle with this terribly on these platforms already. The history here is not great BTW.

And where you and the rest are reading the since changed guidelines as "victim blaming discrimination" by an evil corporation - another possibility is that they used a guideline (potentially from an education setting) and applied it in a setting that it wasn't considered for.

I say this because in an ed setting with down / disabled kids you really don't (even with their permission or their parents) video and promote the "funny" things they do.


I was trying to very politely tell you you're arguing a strawman. This thread is not about the exploitation of people on social media, whether by the companies running them, or others (ie. their parents). This thread is not about who will make it big and who won't on TikTok or whatever other platform.

While a lot of what you are saying is important and something that should be talked about, this thread is not the right place for this discussion. This discussion is specifically about "TikTok [curbing] reach for people with disabilities".

I will comment on two things:

> And where you and the rest are reading the since changed guidelines as "victim blaming discrimination" by an evil corporation

Intentions don't really matter if the act comes off as "victim blaming discrimination" to everyone. If everyone (or, more specifically, "you and the rest") sees it as that, then that's what it is. The duck test very much applies.

> I say this because in an ed setting with down / disabled kids you really don't (even with their permission or their parents) video and promote the "funny" things they do.

Once again, we're not talking about kids. And we're not specifically talking about people with Down's. Those are two very specific instances you cherrypicked, but are not the only cases of "disabilities" used by TikTok in this instance, or in previous instances of censorship. Setting aside the Down's adult argument, where intelligence and ability consent vary wildly between people, it's not nearly as clear cut as you make it seem, are adults with facial disfigurements suddenly not able to decide for themselves? What about members of the LGBTQI+ community (who have been known to be censored on this specific platform)? Amputees? Paraplegics? People with a "birthmark or slight squint"? All of these groups of people, and more, would be "Auto R"ed or given a higher risk category which would prevent their content-- content that they explicitly and willingly uploaded and wanted to make public-- from being seen by others. This is like the textbook definition of censorship, discrimination, and victim blaming.

If you're willing to engage in an actual discussion on this topic, I'm happy to do so, but so far I've been saying things that you're either willingly or unwillingly completely dismissing in lieu of your arguments on a completely different topic.


In your case you have constructed a narrative that this company is out to victim blame and discriminate against the disabled. You've then constructed an elaborate - and very harshly worded set of arguments around this.

Their guidelines "literally" (to use a word you keep on misusing) say this is about cyberbulling - the fault lies with the bullies in cyberbulling if you use that term.

Despite your use of the world "literally" the guidelines do not say this risk marking is designed to "victim blame" and "discriminate against the handicapped".

If you read the guidelines and have a background in this space (I can tell you do not) you may recognize some of these elements from guidelines used in educational and other setting for folks who have a mental handicap. Whether it's proper to bring them over is debatable, but you ascribe a lot of intent to tiktoc and seem unwilling to consider any other perspective than your own.

Content moderation is generally a cost center for platforms. They do it not because they want to, but because they HAVE to. They have links to suicide hotlines, ways to block and report followers. Your premise - that a for-profit company set out to incur costs to discriminate and victim blame (and you've done no analysis of steps they've taken around bullying on the platform). In fact - why was my account suspended is a very common question around tictok - in many cases exactly because of their steps here - they've constructed a reasonably positive community.

Suicide is I believe the second cause of death up to 30 or so (someone correct me) - so focus on questions of cyber-bullying is not unwanted. And yes - fault lies with the bullies - just the way it lies with the criminals who would abuse a child on the street in a city at 2AM. But you still might tell that child to be home while its light out to reduce the risks to them if they were vulnerable - and your intent may not be discriminate against your child's chance to do what they want but to protect them.


"I was trying to very politely tell you you're arguing a strawman."

Even if the policy was a misguided bad idea, the intent behind it was to protect vulnerable people from viral bullying, which has ruined people's lives to the point of suicide. Whether their focus is on protecting the vulnerable people or to protect themselves from a future publicity disaster, it seems clear that they're placing fault in the hands of bullies. Still, you asked "why is it the victim's fault?". That's a fabricated intention that you created so you could then claim that it's "literally victim-blaming". That's strawmanning.


Sounds like how social media works in general: highlight what is most aspired; tuck away what deviates from these ideals.

> TikTok, the fast-growing social network from China, has used unusual measures to protect supposedly vulnerable users. The platform instructed its moderators to mark videos of people with disabilities and limit their reach. Queer and fat people also ended up on a list of „special users“ whose videos were regarded as a bullying risk by default and capped in their reach – regardless of the content.

I'm certainly not privy to all the inner workings of other platforms, but this doesn't sound like what happens on other social media sites...


Interesting because there is a recent tiktok meme going around about being socially accepted (people coming out to their parents, romantic insecurities, teenage pregnancy, etc.) and its really heartwarming and endearing. One thing I've noticed about the younger generation is they definitely seem less harsh when it comes to bullying in general then my generation (I'm 28) at the same age. Although the individual cases of bullying seem more intense.

Nothing about this sounds like it is to protect people, and everything about it sounds to me that they are just trying to minimize the selected groups.

Seems to use the German way to punctuate quotations even though it's an English article :)

TikTok went the wrong way about preventing cyber bullying against the disabled. In this situation it would have been better to do nothing at all. If they had just let disabled individuals get cyber bullied they could have avoided this negative press altogether.

Yes, but then the disabled individuals would have been mentally traumatized. Companies shouldn't avoid doing things just to avoid negative press. They're providing a service for the people.

> Yes, but then the disabled individuals would have been mentally traumatized.

This is absolutely backwards, as it is based upon the presumption that disabled individuals are so fragile that they cannot face any adversity or be "traumatized."

That's just reverse-discrimination, and it's just as damaging as outright discrimination.

> Companies shouldn't avoid doing things just to avoid negative press.

Companies aren't going to arrange themselves along moral lines, we've seen this failure too many times to think it's a possible or even desirable goal. Negative press is a useful tool and is simply reflective of our societies attitudes and morals.

I'm perfectly fine with companies using "negative press" as a bellwether for internal policy.

> They're providing a service for the people.

...and those people _willingly_ decide if they want to use it or not.


> the presumption that disabled individuals are so fragile

No such presumption. Lots of people, especially kids, can become traumatised by bullying. This argument seems like concern trolling to be honest.

> and those people _willingly_ decide if they want to use it or not.

Children can willingly decide to gamble or buy a beer but we as a society don't let them. And we don't just leave it up to the parents in those situations either.


> And we don't just leave it up to the parents in those situations either.

...well, with beer we often do, in the US, at least: https://www.alcohol.org/laws/underage-drinking/


You realize that you're comparing obese people and adults with Tourette's Syndrome to children?

This argument seems like trolling trolling, to be honest.


>Companies aren't going to arrange themselves along moral lines, we've seen this failure too many times to think it's a possible or even desirable goal.

It is hard and even the best companies do it imperfectly, but those caveats don't make it any less valuable. I also think it's silly to say that trying to do less harm relies on a presumption that people cannot withstand any harm. Even if people can take it, it would be good to hurt them less.

This isn't a situation of mutual exclusion. Individuals decide if they want to keep using products and we should talk about if practices are harmful. The two practices inform each other - people can have well-meaning critiques that use reveals as wrong and people can discover, through critique, that the product they liked is actually harming their lives.


Bingo! You did a great job explaining this reverse-discrimination/preemptive excessive PCness that so many people advocate for yet are just apart of the problem (or close to it) as their corresponding counter-parts on the other end of the spectrum.

I think that is the parent poster's point. They tried to do something that to them seemed like it would help people, but ended up in a scandal instead. This is how apathy spreads.

No, that's not the parent poster's point.

From parent post: > If they had just let disabled individuals get cyber bullied they could have avoided this negative press altogether.


i think the assumption is that the op was being sarcastic.

[flagged]


While I'm not surprised that a Chinese company was the first to do this, the criticism has nothing to do with them being Chinese.

Show me an American or European social media company that discriminates in this way and I will show you the same level outrage.


Disabled individuals don’t necessarily have mental disabilities. Why do they need to be protected from bullying anymore than a typical obese/short/tall/whatever person?

[flagged]


No idea why you are being downvoted. While I cannot comment on skin whitening and being Han (never lived in China), I can absolutely attest to the rest of your points that similar things can be observed in Russia (which to me, in a lot of ways, seems to be very similar to China culturally). If you have a child with disabilities, it isn't, unfortunately, socially acceptable to treat them the exact same way you would a normal kid in public. People prefer not to mention their relatives with disabilities and sort of "hide" them from the public eye. And if you try the opposite, people would definitely look at you weirdly. Same goes for dressing "appropriately", except you will also get a lot of nasty comments.

There were no special-ed classes in my school (I went all the way from elementary to high school), and I have never seen a person with disabilities in my school, despite the fact that it was a large school (but we all still kinda knew each other, at least on a surface level). And I find it extremely unlikely that my hometown and my school somehow had such great odds, that there was not a single student with disabilities in a school of ~1.2k people simply due to the fact that everyone in town was that healthy.


Relevant XKCD - https://xkcd.com/1357/

Actually it's illegal in the U.S. and Europe to "show people the door" because of a medical disability.

I wonder if in this case tiktok is actually in violation of discrimination laws.

Although the original xkcd is simply wrong, it's possible that parent post is irony in order to illustrate that?

I don't know what the original intent may have been, but this is the only reading that makes sense.

This is perhaps the only post I've ever seen where this "relevant XKCD" is relevant.

Finally a company that is sensible and free from virtue signalling bs from silicon valley who in fact end up doing more social damage contrary to what they claim!



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