TikTok says it believes in “diversity, inclusion, and authenticity.” The language comes from the company’s community guidelines, where it lays out what is and isn’t acceptable to post on its fast-growing platform.
But lingerie company Adore Me says that has not been its experience on the app. “Adore Me has regularly seen the removal of our content on TikTok that features plus-size, Black, and/or differently abled models and women of color,” it said yesterday.
In a thread on Twitter, the New York-based e-commerce company, which built its business on an inclusive, body-positive image, provided examples of videos it says TikTok removed. They predominately include curvy and non-white women.
One example the company says “particularly infuriated” its team showed a Black woman commenting on product images and shots of models in Adore Me’s lingerie. That video was removed, Adore Me says. A video with a white woman providing similar commentary was not.
TikTok disputed the allegations. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company strives to foster a diverse community and doesn’t moderate content on the basis of shape, size, or ability.
Created by Chinese firm ByteDance, TikTok has grown into a powerful force in social media, with more than 100 million monthly users in the US and over 700 million globally. Under former president Donald Trump, its US ownership became the subject of an unresolved dispute. As a marketing channel, it continues to gain importance for companies who rely on its recommendation algorithm and moderators to put their videos in front of users.
TikTok did not scrub from its platform all Adore Me’s content fitting the description the lingerie company gave on Twitter. The company’s account still shows plenty of videos with women of various sizes and races in its bras and underwear. Adore Me also acknowledged TikTok’s “seeming randomness for content removal is well-known within the industry” in its thread.
But Adore Me said its experience on TikTok has been different than on other social-media platforms, and suggested the removal of its videos was part of a broader pattern of behavior.
Last March, Black American singer Lizzo called out the app for taking down videos in which she’s wearing a bathing suit. TikTok countered that it removed the videos not because she was in a bathing suit but because they violated its policy on sexually explicit content.
Shortly after, The Intercept published internal documents from TikTok instructing moderators to limit content showing users who were “obese” or with an “abnormal body shape,” who had “ugly facial looks,” and who appeared in front of “shabby and dilapidated” environments. TikTok’s response was that some of the guidelines were initially intended to prevent bullying but were no longer in use when The Intercept published them. The documents, according to The Intercept, made no mention of bullying.
TikTok was again on the defensive in June as it addressed accusations of censoring Black users promoting the Black Lives Matter movement and protesting the police killing of George Floyd. The company apologized and blamed a “technical glitch.” But in July, several Black creators told Time they still felt their content wasn’t receiving equal treatment.
Update: TikTok restored three videos today after claiming it had removed them in error, Adore Me said in an email to Quartz. This story has also been updated with comment from TikTok.