TikTok has been one of the world’s biggest distractions during the pandemic, thanks to its endless stream of bite-size videos featuring dance-offs, pranks and other goofs.
Lately there has been a dash of something new at TikTok: politics.
Experimenting with letting users post short political videos, the app is emerging as a platform for protesters and mischief-makers alike in a moment of social unrest around the world. The shift is posing complicated new challenges for an extraordinarily popular app devoted, until recently, to mindless fun.
Political content was long anathema at TikTok, a Chinese-controlled company known for avoiding any video that might make someone uncomfortable. That included blocking or flagging snippets featuring disabled people, too much cleavage and, in one case, “Make America Great Again” caps. When protests over the killing of George Floyd first rocked the U.S. in late May, some TikTok users said the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” was being censored on the app.
TikTok then apologized and attributed the problem to a glitch. It has featured videos of the protests in recent weeks, including scenes of police firing tear-gas canisters, the looting of a barbershop and protesters carrying a man with a gunshot wound—content that former moderators say would surely have been blocked in the past.