For Millennials. By Millennials.
Almost 5 out of every 10 people are using the TikTok app these days. The video-sharing social network provides everyone a platform to get creative and share their content. The clips usually last for a few seconds. Just like any other social network, TikTok also has its community guidelines in place. Similarly, just like any other social network, it also supports live streaming for hours. However, the community guidelines alone couldn’t do anything when there was a huge loophole in the technical system. In February 2019, a 19-year-old Brazilian took his own life, while the video was live-streamed on TikTok. The Intercept has recently disclosed shocking details about the whole situation. It is reported that TikTok’s Brazil Office called their PR Team instead of calling the police when the suicide was reported to them by those who witnessed it LIVE on their TikTok app.
A Brazilian Teenager’s Suicide Livestreamed On TikTok
Though TikTok’s main office (parent company ByteDance) is in China, however; they also have an office in Brazil. On February 21, 2019, around 280 people watched a teenaged vlogger take his own life while live-streaming it. The video was live for about an hour and a half, with 497 comments and 15 complaints. It is also reported by The Intercept that the live-stream showed the vlogger’s body for almost all of that time since the suicide reportedly happened within 2 minutes after going LIVE.
They’ve used the pseudonym João for the vlogger, keeping his real identity secret to protect his family’s privacy. Suicide was attempted at 03:23 PM, while the TikTok officials took notice of the complaints at 05:00 PM. As soon as they got the news, the officials contacted PR Team and started working on a statement to protect their company and make sure that the news does not make it to the headlines.
TikTok Officials waited for nearly 3 hours before calling the police. They were more focused on preparing a press statement instead of alerting the authorities. They still took zero responsibility for the failure of their moderation mechanism that could not deal with the Livestream for more than an hour after suicide.
A former employee of the Brazilian office of ByteDance (parent company of TikTok) informed The Intercept about all the moves taken by the officials at that time. This source fears retaliation of the company. That’s why the identity is kept secret. However, the source wanted the world to know what their families are exposed to while they use TikTok. TikTok is not just famous in adults. Many young children and teenagers also use this app on a regular basis.
The source also provided an internal document to The Intercept, that contains a timeline of the events that took place after the suicide. Unfortunately, TikTok was busy saving its own reputation instead of alerting the teenager’s family or the authorities.
The press statement was ready to be shared with media, in case of press attention. However, it never made it to the press as the matter was kept under wraps.
The ByteDance source (ex-employee) also told The Intercept that orders were very clear.
Her orders were clear: ‘Don’t let it go viral.’
TikTok Live streams are handled by the Chinese team. And the team was not prepared for a situation like this.
So far, Facebook and Twitter are the only apps that are following their community guidelines properly. Their content moderation teams are more active, though Facebook has had its fair share of criticism when it came to content moderation. Instagram, on the other hand, faced a huge controversy when their moderators failed to remove images of a murdered Instagram Personality; Bianca Devins. Her murderer shared her images on Discord. The images later went viral on Instagram. People even started to claim that they’d share her images if they get 10k followers or more. They used it to gain more followers.
BuzzFeed even confirmed that the image was still on the murderer’s Instagram account until the news site contacted Instagram authorities. By the time Instagram took down the account, it was too late. The images were already viral and reposted multiple times.
However, even though TikTok team failed to report the incident on time to the police. They did not fail in keeping the news from spreading or going viral. They kept it under wraps for a year.
Business Insider also tried to contact the officials. However, TikTok told them that the delay occurred as there was a “breakdown” in the process. TikTok also told Business Insider that they took disciplinary action against the employees involved and they have modified their review process.
Not the first live-streamed suicide
TikTok is one of the most-downloaded apps in the world. It is widely used due to its “comedy and talent” videos. This incident highlights how good TikTok is when it comes to hiding news that goes against them. Are they hiding more than this? The sources also confirm this is not the first suicide live-streamed on TikTik.