ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, may be tracking online conversations about the COVID-19 lab leak theory, according to documents obtained by Forbes.
According to a Forbes investigation, a ByteDance tool controlled by Chinese personnel monitors the use of “sensitive words” across company platforms. Forbes accessed hundreds of ByteDance’s word lists and published them; they contain various categories, including “science and medicine,” which is largely about China and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The words in this category seem to reference the origin of the pandemic, including “pangolin,” an animal that some theorized spread the virus to human beings, and “leaked experiment,” which likely refers to the theory that the virus originated and leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
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TikTok denied these word lists were ever enforced on the platform, according to Forbes, however, the outlet previously reported that more than 50 of the lists contained the term “TikTok” in their title. “We believe many of these list titles have translation errors and are not relevant to TikTok,” TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza told Forbes.
ByteDance censors some posts with words that are labeled “must kill,” “forbidden” or “prohibited,” according to Forbes. The tool also seeks to record each instance where someone uses these words, noting who said it and where they are geographically located, including Americans.
ByteDance’s database of “sensitive words” are sorted into thousands of vocabulary lists, according to Forbes. It “is proof-positive that there are specific things that they are concerned about, and they want to monitor who was saying them, when and how often,” William Evanina, the former head of counterintelligence for the U.S. government, told Forbes. “They’re not just collecting it for collection’s sake,” he added.
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ByteDance’s moderation system also includes posts relating to former President Donald Trump and the persecuted Chinese Uyghurs, according to Forbes.
TikTok continued to target Acton Institute, an independent think tank that advocates for individual and religious liberty on Thursday.
The think tank promoted a documentary criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and TikTok removed and reinstated posts without any explanation.
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