TikTok updated its terms of service Tuesday morning to ban deadnaming, misgendering, misogyny, and content that promotes conversion therapy programs.
The updated community guidelines will also break out “dangerous acts and challenges” including suicide hoaxes into a separate category, and will remove the promotion of disordered eating, such as overexercise or short-term fasting.
In an announcement, Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s Head of Trust and Safety, wrote that these changes will “clarify or expand upon the types of behavior and content we will remove from our platform or make ineligible for recommendation in the For You feed.” The For You page is an algorithmically-generated recommendation feed that TikTok serves users based on their activity on the platform; users don’t have control over whether their content makes it to this feed, but surfacing there can explode into viral harassment.
In October 2021, representatives from TikTok (alongside Snap and YouTube) were questioned about their safety practices in a congressional hearing on online safety for children.
The “dangerous acts and challenges” portion of the new rule seem to target incidents like the “school shooting day” hoax from December, and the “national rape day” hoax earlier in 2021.
Deadnaming, or intentionally using a transgender person’s pre-transition name, and intentional misgendering someone have real-life effects on people, especially teens. Surveys and studies show that teens whose gender identities are respected by people around them are less likely to attempt suicide. Conversion therapy, the abusive practice of trying to “convert” queer people to become straight, has been widely condemned by medical professionals.
Keenan wrote that TikTok worked with experts in digital safety, content moderation, and adolescent development to write the new policies. GLAAD worked with TikTok to develop the policy that prohibits conversion therapy content. “When anti-transgender actions like misgendering or deadnaming, or the promotion of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ occur on platforms like TikTok, they create an unsafe environment for LGBTQ people online and too often lead to real world harm,” Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO, said in a press release.
Twitter implemented similar rules against deadnaming and misgendering other users in 2018, banning “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” to its existing hateful conduct policies. But trans rights activists called out Twitter a year later, saying that the platform may have made this change in writing, but in reality, did little to stop hate speech against trans people on Twitter. Twitter was the only major social media platform with this type of policy, until now.
TikTok is very late to the game here, but better late than never. “TikTok has become a little safer for women, LGBQ and trans people today," Bridget Todd, Communications Director at UltraViolet, a national gender justice advocacy group, said in the press release from GLAAD. “We applaud TikTok for responding effectively to our recommendations and implementing them into an updated, more protective user policy. Even so, it’s clear social media platforms have a long way to go across the board.”
Update, Feb. 8, 3:20 p.m. EST: After this story was first published, TikTok told Motherboard that it has "long banned hateful behavior," and that today's update just made its "approach more explicit," namely by explaining this behavior is not allowed on the platform in its Community Guidelines.