When a deranged conspiracy theory with potential for real-world harm rears its head on your viral-video platform, it’s time to take action. Or if you’re TikTok, sorta kinda take a baby step towards curbing its influence.
Late Friday TikTok confirmed to Rolling Stone that it would stop returning search results for QAnon-related words and phrases. Notably, TikTok is still allowing hashtags associated with the “deep state”-obsessed fiction on its platform. The phrases aren’t banned, and neither is conspiracy content, but they just won’t be searchable.
We reached out to TikTok both to confirm the new policy and to determine when it went into effect, but received no immediate reply. However, according to Rolling Stone, a TikTok spokesperson said the move was driven by the fact that QAnon content involves disinformation, which is banned on the platform. According to Digital Trends, the #QAnon had more than 83 million views on TikTok up from 3 million in December. TikTok has also been home to a revival of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory among its young users.
“Content that is intended to deceive or mislead any of our community members endangers our trust-based community,” reads TikTok’s guidelines in part. “We do not allow such content on our platform. This includes activities such as spamming, impersonation, and disinformation campaigns.”
As of late Friday afternoon, searches for #qanon, #qanontruth, #fallcabal, and #outofshadows all show zero results on the platform. The same can be said for #Pizzagate. Meanwhile, #wwg1wga (an abbreviation of the QAnon catchphrase “Where we go one, we go all”) continued to return results.
This is not the first time TikTok has quietly rolled out some form of a content ban. As the Guardian reported in 2019, the app — owned by Chinese company Byte Dance — has in the past censored videos “that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong” as well as “pro-LGBT content” in certain areas. In the U.S., one can still see LGBTQ content.
TikTok’s Friday decision follows shortly on the heels of a similar, albeit more robust, move by Twitter. On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based social media company announced it would go so far as to block certain “URLs associated with QAnon from being shared on Twitter.”
In addition, we will:
1⃣ No longer serve content and accounts associated with QAnon in Trends and recommendations
2⃣ Work to ensure we’re not highlighting this activity in search and conversations
3⃣ Block URLs associated with QAnon from being shared on Twitter
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) July 22, 2020
In response, some QAnon adherents on Twitter discussed plans to circumvent the company’s actions by using the number 17 as a stand-in for the letter Q — a move that may repeat itself in some form on TikTok.
But if that doesn’t work well enough to circumvent TikTok’s new policy, there’s always Facebook. A