TikTok recruits experts for new content advisory council amid US scrutiny over censorship, data privacy

Tracy Qu

TikTok has named a group of US experts in technology, policy and mental health to form a new content advisory council as it seeks to shape moderation policies amid concerns by some US lawmakers that the viral video app censors content on behalf of the Chinese government.

The council will meet the company’s US executives later this month to discuss platform integrity, including policies designed to fight misinformation and election interference. On Monday TikTok said it would complete the transfer of the app's content moderation team to locations outside China “within a few weeks”.

“We want to surround ourselves with experts who can both evaluate the actions we’ve taken and provide guidance on additional measures we could be pursuing”, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s US general manager, said in a blog post.

TikTok, the overseas version of China’s Douyin, is ramping up efforts to maintain its US market presence in the face of scrutiny by regulators over national security, censorship and data privacy.

Last week the app, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, said it will open a Transparency Center in Los Angeles in May.

TikTok close to moving all China-based content moderation outside country

The short video app was the world’s most downloaded non-game app over the past two months, according to Sensor Tower. However, ByteDance is facing a US national security inquiry into TikTok's handling of user data, amid increased scrutiny of Chinese tech firms as tensions rise between the US and China over censorship and related concerns.

The Content Advisory Council, which will eventually expand to around a dozen experts from the initial seven members, is led by Dawn Nunziato, a professor at George Washington University Law School and co-director of the Global Internet Freedom Project.

Panel members also include Hany Farid, an expert on digital image and video forensics, computer vision and deep fakes at the University of California Berkeley, and Vicki Harrison, a specialist in social media and mental health at Stanford Psychiatry Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Eight-year-old ByteDance, with a valuation of around US$78 billion, last week named two executives to focus on its China business. Monetisation head Zhang Lidong will serve as chairman of its China business, overseeing non-product operations, including strategy and monetisation.

Douyin chief Kelly Zhang was named chief executive of ByteDance’s China business, responsible for product operations, including Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, Douyin and Xigua Video.

Company founder Zhang Yiming will shift his focus to global strategy, with ByteDance expecting to nearly double its global headcount to 100,000 by the end of the year.

Zhang will also help Alex Zhu, the head of TikTok “to improve Bytedance’s global management,” according to an announcement posted on the company’s official WeChat account.

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