TikTok said it would remove videos of Myanmar soldiers threatening to shoot protestors after being presented with the findings of a VICE World News report about the online calls to violence, which rights groups believe are fueling an intensifying crackdown on protesters that has killed at least 50 people.
The social media platform, which initially did not comment directly on the videos, said in an updated statement late Wednesday that it was actively taking them down as outrage spreads over their proliferation in Myanmar the same day that dozens of people were gunned down in anti-coup demonstrations.
“As it relates to Myanmar, we have been and continue to promptly remove all content that incites violence or spreads misinformation, and are aggressively monitoring to remove any such content that violates our guidelines,” the statement said.
According to TikTok’s Community Guidelines, threats and incitement to violence, as well as hate speech, are prohibited on the platform.
In the videos, men dressed in Myanmar military uniforms could be seen pointing automatic weapons at the camera, showing off loaded magazines, and chanting phrases like “we have to shoot.”
While some of the original videos appear to have been largely taken down, VICE World News was able to find other similar clips easily on Thursday. In one that received more than 120,000 likes, a young man dressed in military uniform talks in degrading language about former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested on Feb. 1 at the start of the coup.
“Your mother [Aung San Suu Kyi] doesn’t even have the dignity of a dog,” he said in a series of clips. “If there’s no military here, the country would be fucked.”
Another video with a man holding a large automatic weapon remained online.
At least 38 people were killed by security forces across Myanmar on Wednesday alone, one of the bloodiest days since the takeover. TikTok is now facing the same kind of pressure once directed at Facebook, which came under fire for hate speech spread against Rohingya Muslims in a 2017 crackdown.
Days after the coup, Facebook announced that it would remove all remaining military and military-controlled pages from its platform after previously banning the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing for his role in the Rohingya crisis.
While Facebook has been dealing with problematic Myanmar military content for years, the issue seems relatively new to TikTok, which only became popular in Myanmar during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some speculate that Facebook’s removal of the military’s presence on its platform has encouraged personnel to air their threats on TikTok.
Owned by Beijing-based Bytedance, TikTok became gained immense traction around the world during the pandemic.
But while the platform became a hotbed for viral memes, social activism, and even job searches for its predominantly Gen Z user base, it has also faced its fair share of struggles with its snowballing international popularity. These include dealing with nationwide bans, criticisms of its reportedly pro-Beijing censorship policy, and now the problem of calls to violence by Myanmar soldiers.