TikTok wants to be transparent. The company has announced that it is taking new steps to give external access to the algorithms it uses to order and share user videos, and will allow experts to “observe our moderation policies in real time.”
In a blog post released Wednesday, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer said the changes put him “one step ahead of the industry” and challenged rivals to follow suit. “[W]We believe that our entire industry should be at an exceptionally high level, ”writes Mayer. “This is why we believe that all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies and data flows to regulators. We will not wait for regulation to arrive, but rather TikTok has taken the first step by launching a Transparency and Accountability Center for moderation and data practices. “
The timing of the news is significant. Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon today face the antitrust panel of the House Judiciary, and while TikTok is not among the companies facing congressional scrutiny, it will surely be mentioned during the process. In previous appearances, Mark Zuckerberg has pointed to TikTok as an example of competition within the social apps space, and uses the company as a demonstration of why American tech companies need to be free to counter China’s rise.
In Zuckerberg’s prepared remarks, released yesterday, the Facebook CEO presents the competition between Facebook and its foreign rivals as an ideological battle.
“We believe in the values (democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression) on which the American economy was built,” wrote Zuckerberg. “Many other technology companies share these values, but there is no guarantee that our values will succeed. For example, China is building their own version of the Internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries. “
Mayer responds to these comments in her own blog post, saying she wants to focus on “fair and open competition” rather than dealing with “malignant attacks by our competitor, ie Facebook, disguised as patriotism.”
However, Facebook’s arguments will certainly find a sympathetic ear in Congress. American politicians have been warning about the dangers of TikTok influence for months, and the Trump administration went as far as to suggest that a ban could be in place.
This pressure has put TikTok in a difficult situation, and that is why the company is opening its algorithms and moderation policies. It allows the company to counter claims that it is censoring content to please the Chinese government, one of the favorite criticisms of American politicians. He also places the responsibility for transparency on Facebook, which has received much criticism, from both the left and the right, for operating its selective moderation policies.
“Without TikTok, American advertisers would have little choice again,” Mayer argues in his post. “The competition would run out and also an outlet for America’s creative energy … We are ready to take all necessary steps to ensure the availability and long-term success of TikTok.”