By most measures, TikTok is on a tear.
Taking on more established video-sharing platforms, the app has established itself as one of the most downloaded offerings on Apple’s App Store.
Earlier this week, TikTok Vice President Blake Chandlee even suggested that the app now boasts more than half a billion users.
Yet, threatening TikTok’s enviable momentum, it also emerged this week that the app has a history of censuring political dissenters in its home country of China.
According to internal documents obtained by The Guardian, the Chinese-owned app has instructed content moderators to scrub mentions of Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and other topics that the Chinese government would rather not see discussed in the public sphere.
Formerly known to the world as musical.ly, Beijing-based ByteDance bought TikTok in 2017.
In response, ByteDance has released an official statement insisting that the content guidelines obtained by The Guardian are dated, and no longer used by its moderators.
“In TikTok's early days we took a blunt approach to minimizing conflict on the platform, and our moderation guidelines allowed penalties to be given for things like content that promoted conflict, such as between religious sects or ethnic groups, spanning a number of regions around the world,” the company said in a statement.
Amid its growing popularity around the world, however, the company said it was not taking “the correct approach” to content moderation, “and began working to empower local teams that have a nuanced understanding of each market.”
“We also understand the need to be more transparent in communicating the policies that we develop and enforce to maintain a safe and positive app environment,” the company admitted.
Just how transparent ByteDance will be remains to be seen.How consumers and marketers -- in the U.S. and in other markets -- respond to these latest revelations is also an open question.