Amid anger over Holocaust role-play clips, TikTok joins EU’s hate speech code

Video-sharing app under fire for failing to curb hate; official says it might be ‘insurmountable challenge,’ but company committed to trying

The icon for TikTok. (AP Photo/File)
The icon for TikTok. (AP Photo/File)

Video-sharing app TikTok, which is wildly popular among teenagers, has joined the EU’s code of conduct against hate speech, the EU said on Tuesday.

Owned by Chinese company Bytedance, TikTok is under fire for not doing enough to curb hate speech and has launched a global effort to show its willingness to better police content.

Last month, TikTok said it had removed more than 380,000 videos in the US this year as part of its mission to “eliminate hate” on the platform.

That came after young people used the platform to pretend to be Holocaust victims in heaven in short videos, shocking Jewish users. In most of the clips, young women and teens act out a fictionalized story of a victim in the afterlife, donning costumes and make-up meant to show bruises and burn marks on their faces.

The US Army last week also said it had suspended a field artillery officer for joking about the Holocaust in a video he posted to TikTok, where he has nearly three million followers.

2nd Lt. Nathan Freihofer in a TikTok video published on August 28, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

“What’s a Jewish person’s favorite Pokémon?” 2nd Lt. Nathan Freihofer says in the short clip, referring to the characters in a popular animated television series, as well as a popular video game series. “Ash,” he responds, before breaking out into a cackle.

TikTok is also fighting accusations in the US that it is linked to the Chinese government and faces an order by President Donald Trump to stop running the app there.

Launched in 2016, the EU’s code of conduct on hate speech is voluntary and has been signed by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, Instagram, Google+ and Snapchat.

“It’s good that TikTok joined the code — a company favored by young users who are particularly vulnerable to online abuse and illegal hate speech,” said EU vice president Vera Jourova.

“Of course, I expect TikTok to adhere not only to the code’s principles, but also [to] fully respect European law when operating on European soil,” she said.

According to the latest data from the EU commission, participating platforms assess 90 percent of reported content within 24 hours and remove 71 percent of content considered illegal.

“Our ultimate goal is to eliminate hate on TikTok,” said Cormac Keenan, Tiktok’s head of trust and safety for Europe.

“We recognize that this may seem an insurmountable challenge as the world is increasingly polarized, but we believe that this shouldn’t stop us from trying,” he said.

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