Li An, as told to Shen Lu for Protocol, ‘I helped build ByteDance’s censorship machine‘:
During livestreaming shows, every audio clip would be automatically transcribed into text, allowing algorithms to compare the notes with a long and constantly-updated list of sensitive words, dates and names, as well as Natural Language Processing models. Algorithms would then analyze whether the content was risky enough to require individual monitoring.
If a user mentioned a sensitive term, a content moderator would receive the original video clip and the transcript showing where the term appeared. If the moderator deemed the speech sensitive or inappropriate, they would shut down the ongoing livestreaming session and even suspend or delete the account. Around politically sensitive holidays, such as Oct. 1 (China’s National Day), July 1 (the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party) or major political anniversaries like the anniversary of the 1989 protests and crackdown in Tiananmen Square, the Content Quality Center would generate special lists of sensitive terms for content moderators to use. Influencers enjoyed some special treatment — there were content moderators assigned specifically to monitor certain influencers’ channels in case their content or accounts were mistakenly deleted. Some extremely popular influencers, state media and government agencies were on a ByteDance-generated white list, free from any censorship — their compliance was assumed.
TikTok’s For You Page is so good at recommending videos because ByteDance is so good at censoring videos. The underlining technology is the same.